Port chiefs have further delayed their application to carry out controversial ship-to-ship oil transfers in the dolphin-friendly Moray Firth.
A spokeswoman for the Port of Cromarty Firth confirmed yesterday that its revised application would not be submitted to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency until after the council elections in May.
The move follows many months of fierce opposition to the proposal from hundreds of residents in surrounding coastal communities and further afield. The contentious issue features on the agenda of next week’s full Highland Council meeting in Inverness.
An emergency motion calls for members to agree to arranging a special meeting on the subject in the event the port authority submits a licence application sooner than May 4.
The call from a group of independent, SNP and Liberal Democrat councillors aims to “influence” the council’s submission as a statutory consultee in the process.
The application now appears to be on hold.
A spokeswoman for the port authority said: “Due to the amount of work involved in reviewing the refined application, it is unlikely this will be completed to allow the 42-day consultation before the pre-council election period.
“We will not be submitting the refined application during this pre-election period, as it is critical that all stakeholders have the time to consider the document in full.”
Campaigners fighting the transfers proposal were not surprised by the latest delay.
Duncan Bowers. of the pressure group Cromarty Rising. said: “The port continues to ignore the thousands of people who fundamentally object to ship-to-ship crude oil transfers taking place where bottlenose dolphins live.
“There’s a perfectly viable alternative at Nigg terminal and it’s time the port authority started to recognise the impacts for communities and regional businesses as stakeholders.”
As of last night, an online petition against the licence proposal had attracted more than 95,000 signatures.
The protest, hosted on the campaigning website 38 Degrees, is addressed to the UK Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling.
It cites environmental risk to the area’s wildlife and urges him to block the port’s plan to transfer up to nine million tonnes of crude oil a year between tankers lying at anchor in open water at the mouth of the firth.