A little over a week ago, in the early hours of Friday 14 November, one of the silo's at Port Ellen Maltings collapsed. After the first article provided by George Rhind and the pictures from Yvonne Anderson, today the story as it was published in this weeks Ileach newspaper:
A grain silo at Port Ellen Maltings collapsed shortly before 6am on the morning of Friday, 14th November. The silo contained several hundred tonnes of malted barley. No-one was injured in the incident but, as a precaution, neighbouring houses were evacuated while an investigation into the cause of the incident took place.
Diageo Senior Site Manager Kevin Sutherland said the local support he and his team at Port Ellen Maltings had received had been invaluable. â€œOur sincere thanks go to the residents from the six houses which were evacuated as a safety precaution. Their patience and understanding were very much appreciated. We also received numerous offers of assistance over the weekend and many local contractors worked long hours to help us with the clear up - again we are very grateful for this support.â€
The good news is that nobody was hurt, or worse... Huge sighs of relief all round. The only thing that got bent was a lot of metal and an insurance companyâ€™s profit margin, although a number of people were seriously inconvenienced, particularly those who had to be evacuated from their houses. As is always the way when there is a bit of a crisis here on Islay, people rally round, the distilleries pool expertise and offer practical and moral support, contractors work through the night and somehow the thing gets sorted. We must not pretend however, that this has been anything other than a very serious incident, or that searching questions should not be asked. Continue reading.....The Port Ellen Maltings were built (with significant local community and political support), in the early 1970â€™s, when attitudes to all kinds of things were very different to those of today. The Distillers Company (as it was then) realised that the days of traditional floor maltings were over - and the construction of the new plant turned out to be a visionary move - in that it can be argued that the heavily peated malt from Port Ellen has played a key part in enabling the Islay whisky industry to develop into the global marketing phenomenon that it has become today. The building of the plant brought many immediate benefits too - there was plenty of work for the construction industry, and the plant initially offered significant numbers of well paid jobs. The numbers directly employed have steadily fallen (in line with the automation of industrial processes everywhere), but the importance of the plant to Islay is undiminished.
There is general agreement however, that it would be very unlikely to get permission to build the plant in its current position today. The residents of Bay View and Antrim View housing schemes, both of which pre-date the maltings, are long suffering, not just because of their grim industrial outlook, but also because they have had to live in the smoke, and live with the dust, the noise, the dirt, the trashing of the road and the endless stream of trucks that is required to sustain a heavy industrial plant. There have been repeated assurances about how the emissions from the chimney stacks are safe, but it cannot be much fun living in the smog with the smoke alarms in your house going off whenever the windows are open on summersâ€™ evenings. There are those who will not miss the squeaking noises that emanated, sometimes all night, from the now demolished silos as they were being filled. Most of us are able to take hanging out our washing outside for granted.
If the Port Ellen Maltings had been just any old factory spewing out widgits for wotsits that nobody really cared about, then its chances of survival would have been minimal. Its industrial processes would have been shipped off long ago to some third world ghetto and its noise and smoke inflicted on some other poor folk, far far away. That it's still here is testament to just how important its contribution has been - using Islay peat, Islay water and Islay knowhow to supply our most iconic distilleries with one of their fundamental raw materials. The extent to which anything will change following the failure of the malt silo will surely depend on the reaction of the Islay community to the incident. One thing we can be sure of however - questions that have been chewed over in private for years will inevitably now be openly discussed.
Councillor Robin Currie told the Ileach: â€œHaving been at the scene, I was horrified to see the damage done and how close everything was to the houses. Thankfully nobody was hurt and I have spoken to the personnel who will be involved in the rebuilding and I will be pressing for the any new towers to be positioned further from the houses than the previous ones.â€