News

Shannon Flood Relief Group Given Assurances During Meeting

Thursday, 8 June 2017

A MEETING of the Mid-Shannon Flood Relief Group was held in the Creggan Court Hotel, Athlone recently and the meeting was given assurances that the government remains fully committed to tackling the Shannon flooding problem. 

Farmers and local politicians have been expressing their frustration and concern in recent weeks that the promised dredging work on the Shannon still hasn't started.

 At a public meeting in Athlone Institute of Technology at the beginning of April, Minister Seán Canney promised that significant flooding works will be carried out on the Shannon this year.

Last week Minister Canney was replaced by the Longford Westmeath TD Kevin 'Boxer' Moran as Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief, in compliance with an agreement the two men came to a year ago.

'This appointment is one that I find very challenging especially in relation to the area of Flood Relief,' said Minister Moran. 'I look forward to working with the OPW in ensuring that the Catchment Flood Risk Management Plans are implemented to protect communities from flood risk throughout the country.' 

 The meeting in Creggan Court included a number of TDs and County Councillors. Present were Chairperson Michael Silke, Secretaries Emily Young, Michael Doolan, Treasurer Alo Horan and Committee members (all of whom live beside the Shannon between Lough Ree and Lough Derg). Also present were a number of people who live or have land or businesses on the banks of the Shannon in the Athlone area.

 The TDs  in the Mid Shannon area (from counties Offaly, Westmeath, Roscommon and Galway) were invited to bring everyone up to date on what progress has been made on the group's three main aims, which are, 

  - Lowering the levels in the three main lakes on the Shannon (Allen, Ree, Derg);

  - Getting legislation passed by the Dáil to mandate the ESB to lower the present statutory  levels in the lakes and create one Agency to manage and maintain these levels;

  - To put in place an ongoing maintenance programme to remove the major impediments to the flow of water in the river.

  The TDs present were Kevin Boxer Moran, Willie Penrose, Eugene Murphy, Michael Fitzmorris, Denis Naughten. Robert Troy was represented by Vinny McCormack. Cllr John Naughten also attended. Apologies were received from Minister Seán Canney, Deputies Anne Rabbitte and Carol Nolan, and Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.

 Mr Silke began the meeting by focussing on the lack of progress in pursuing the recommendations submitted by the Group to all TDs in 2016.  'The only evidence of any work done,' he remarked, 'was the cutting of bushes around Madden's Island and that was a cosmetic exercise. Only trees overhanging the area were cut down.'

Mr Silke, Fintan Nally, and Michael Macken spoke of the sharp rise in the Shannon's water levels during March with levels rising one foot each day for seven days just below Athlone.  

The meeting was told that at the public meeting in Athlone Institute of Technology at the beginning of April, Tom Browne, Asset Manager, ESB, said on three occasions that the high levels of water in Lough Derg did not cause the flooding above Meelick weir during March. However the Mid-Shannon Flood Relief Group, and many people who live beside the Shannon, do not consider this statement correct.

Kevin Boxer Moran pointed out that Minister Canney made contact with the ESB in mid-March and as a result extra water was then released through Ardnacrusha, thereby leading to a drop in the water levels by the end of March.

Deputy Willie Penrose told the Creggan Court meeting very emphatically that work will commence soon and he will work closely with Minister Moran. He said he had every confidence in the Minister.  

Liam Broderick asked Deputy Eugene Murphy a few questions regarding the progress of the Fianna Fail Bill before the Oireachtas proposing to lower the levels of water in the three Shannon lakes. Deputy Murphy said the Bill is at Stage 1 and has cross party support.

Mr Broderick asked if this Bill was asking the ESB to control the levels in the lakes or mandating them to do so as he could not see this written anywhere in the Bill. The Deputy replied that the Bill proposes to change the statutory regulations for the ESB concerning the levels of water in the Shannon lakes. He added that a Bill regarding a single Agency to maintain and manage the Shannon would follow in the near future.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice said there is no problem in Brussels regarding the proposed maintenance of the river. He emphasised the need for the silt areas to be removed, a maintenance plan implemented and a new channel dug out to allow the river Suck to join the Shannon more easily in a flood situation.

Deputy Moran commented that progress was slow over the last few months but  there are people on board now (including National Parks and Wildlife Service, Waterways Ireland) who will create a smooth path. He said he would back Deputy Murphy's Bill. He said Ardnacrusha is causing problems even though it only produces 1.5% of the country's electricity. He said that pinch points and maintenance must be done and that this needed to be a long term plan, probably 10 to 12 years.

Deputy Moran reported that

  a) The OPW is carrying out a survey of the appropriate pinch points to be removed and this will take 8-12 weeks;

b) The boards at Meelick will be removed;

c) The flood defences will be constructed in Athlone in September or October;

d) A relocation scheme is in place for single houses (€2 million). Interest has been expressed but many homeowners are reluctant to participate;

e) The building of an embankment in Banagher is going to tender in two weeks;

f) Bord na Móna is willing to give the use of cut-away bog in order to store water during the winter months;

 g) He wants to see the CFRAM recommendations over the line - town first and country communities afterwards;

h) Work between Rooskey and Carrick-on Shannon has commenced.

  i) He has now met all the agencies.

Mr John Curley spoke of the need to have one authority to manage the river.  

Paddy Kavanagh said there was a lack of information on what was happening regarding structural protection, order of priority for AFSs and relocation.  

 Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice said there is a different relationship with agencies now. There is a pro-active person involved. He also stated that no single method will be effective and that a suite of different measures is required.

Seamus Flynn said there are eleven places where raw sewage is entering the Shannon in the Athlone area.  

Minister Moran said he has a five point plan for rural areas and it will help. He added that it's recognised that the management of Lough Derg is a significant part of the problem He said he will report back to the Mid-Shannon Flood Relief Group in 8 to 10 weeks time.  Bord Na Mona but that he is 75% on the way with them.

Deputy Naughten pointed out that at the present time a single governing authority for the river's management was not the way forward because of the complex regulations involved. He said that maintenance will be carried out this year.  

He pointed out that water is not getting to Meelick Weir and there are blockages between Banagher and Meelick which need to be removed. 

The meeting also discussed why the levels in Lough Derg are being kept high, and why there is a proposed project to take water from this lake and pipe it to Dublin. Most people in the meeting felt that it should be taken from Lough Ree.

Liam Broderick explained that the Marlborough and Meelick sluices were open all winter, and only four sluices were closed in October to facilitate boat traffic. 'The water levels in the Shannon were low all winter,' he remarked, 'but rose rapidly in March when heavy rain came. Yet the levels in Lough Derg were high and the Little Brosna was full before the heavy rain came. Why wasn't water released from Lough Derg in time to cater for water coming from upriver?'

'We need practical action now,' commented Mr John Curley. 'The blocking silt and vegetation must be removed and disposed of. An issue here is where to put the waste material.  While it could be spread on land, farmers will need a licence to accept the stuff."

 Environmental issues were also discussed. For example, the demise of the corncrake, the near-demise of the curlew, the serious decline of the flora and fauna on the Shannon banks due to the constant and excessive flooding. If maintenance was carried out on the river, a number of these issues could be resolved. Spoil from the river could (with agreement) be placed on sections of the bank, grass and vegetation would grow again and within a couple of years wildlife and environment would return.  

'Those people who live close to the banks of the Shannon know full well that flooding will occur each year,' commented Mr Broderick, 'and they know how to live with this. What is difficult to live with is the excessive flooding during the winter, and the flooding during the summer. If the water in Lough Derg was released in time by the ESB then it would be very unlikely that the excessive flooding events of 2009 and 2015 would occur again.'

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