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Shannon flood relief works still haven't started

Thursday, 24 August 2017

IMPATIENCE is growing among people living in the Shannon region as the long-promised flood relief works still haven't started.

  Works were promised at the beginning of the year and were expected to start during the summer but still nothing has happened.

  Liam Broderick of the Mid Shannon Flood Relief Group said there has been no sign of any clearing of fallen trees and vegetation, or of dredging of silt, anywhere along the system during the summer.

  He said the Mid Shannon Flood Relief Group will meet with Minister Boxer Moran next week and convey their concerns to him and ask for an immediate commencement of works.

  "The only thing which has started," he said, "is the construction of an embankment at the Portavolla estate in Banagher. It is very disappointing and we are concerned and impatient. We met with Minister Moran 12 weeks ago and he said work would start within 12 weeks. His 12 weeks are now up and we haven't heard one word from him since."

  In May the Minister told the group that he would meet with the OPW in Trim and discuss 22 pinchpoints along the river, with the aim of carrying out a survey of these pinchpoints. He also said that the boards at Meelick which are connected with the river's level will be made automatic.

  The Minister stated that defensive works, in the form of glass perspex, will be placed on both sides of the river in Athlone during September and October.

  "He told us that he will meet with Bord na Móna and discuss the possibility of using cutaway bogs for water storage."

  Back in May Deputy Eugene Murphy questioned why the River still wasn't being dredged. He was told that the various state agencies involved are continuing their discussions on the plan. The Roscommon Galway TD said people in at-risk areas couldn't afford to wait.

  Deputy Murphy is introducing a new Bill to the Dáil called the Electricity Supply Bill 2016 which is in its first stage and will mandate the ESB to release the water in time along the system. Mr Broderick pointed out that in his opinion the ESB is causing a lot of the flooding problem because it isn't releasing the water. "The new bill will tackle this problem. Deputy Murphy told us that there is no move yet to bring the bill to stage two. He told us that amendments have been taken on board." Mr Broderick said that if the ESB released the water earlier then the flooding problem could be completely solved. "Last March Minister Canney told us that he had to make a phonecall to the ESB and ask them to release the water from Lough Derg.

  "People are experiencing flooding who never experienced flooding before," he remarked. "When flooding incidents happen the water is coming into farmyards and into houses which never experienced that before."

  He added that Minister Moran will also introduce a relocation scheme which will rehouse five to seven people in non-flooding locations.

  He said he believes that there should be just one statutory authority looking after the whole Shannon system.

  The Mid-Shannon Flood Relief Group's meeting with Minister Moran was held in the Creggan Court Hotel, Athlone and they were given assurances that the government remains fully committed to tackling the Shannon flooding problem. 

  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.

  In May 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 at the time. '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. The members of the Mid Shannon group who were present included 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 had 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.

  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.   Deputy Eugene Murphy said 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.

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

  Minister Moran said that it's recognised that the management of Lough Derg is a significant part of the problem. 

  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. 

   "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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