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Vital dredging work finally begins on Shannon after decades' wait

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Vital dredging work finally begins on Shannon after decades' wait thumbnailMinister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief Kevin 'Boxer' Moran said he is delighted this work has at last begun and people have waited decades for it.

VITAL clearance work on the Shannon finally commenced last week and Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief Kevin 'Boxer' Moran invited the media to view the work thus far carried out on Monday morning. 
 We walked a kilometre from our cars across fields and through gates to the river bank where flood relief works commenced on Thursday at one of the many pinchpoints on the Shannon. This particular point is in Offaly, at a place called Muckinish, near Meelick. 
Boxer Moran told the Tribune that he was delighted the dredging work had at last begun. He said people have waited decades for it. "You see a happy man before you today," commented the Minister. "The talking is now over. Work has begun on a major flood relief scheme throughout the Shannon system." He pointed out that this  Muckinish site will be the first of several pinchpoints which will be tackled this year. "We will tackle about ten narrow points each year. As you can see, half of the width of the River at this section was blocked with silt and emergent vegetation. We have now put in a silt curtain at this freed-up section to prevent it from silting up again.
"I want to offer my thanks to the local farmers for their advice and assistance, to the IFA, the NPWS and other organisations connected with the Shannon.
"This is a major day in the history of the Shannon." 
 The Minister added that some people are concerned about the environmental impact of this dredging work. He said the silt wasn't natural but was manmade, entering the river due to runoff from works over the decades.
 We watched the excavation machines as they removed the silt. The diggers have already done a huge amount of work and an enormous quantity of silt has been extracted from the river. This silt is a dark brown, sludgy muck and there is a vast amount of it, tonnes and tonnes in this spot alone. Critics have argued that it's peat-based, created in large part by Bord na Móna who didn't put in adequate filtration systems over the decades to prevent run-off from their bog cutting works.
Minister Moran said a lot more work will be done over the coming months and years tackling a large number of narrow pinchpoint sections along the Shannon, putting in place flood defence barriers and working with the ESB to release as much water as possible whenever it's necessary. 
The Minister said the excavated silt and vegetation will remain on the banks for several months and then will be transported elsewhere.
The Minister also visited the Flood Bund at Portavolla Banagher where houses were flooded in 2015. The Bund is made of a clay based soil and will last many years. It will be covered by grass and is a few feet above the 2015 flood levels. It's connected to a water sump system. The Minister said similar Bunds will be constructed in Athlone and in other parts of the country other than the Shannon system, including Clonakilty. "I turned the sod on this Bund 10 weeks ago and I am delighted to see so much work has been done already. There are about 35 houses in Portavolla and the residents are delighted to see this work." The Bund consists of approximately 575 linear metres of earthen embankments, and it's planned to complete the works before the end of the year.
 The flood relief works, including the work at Muckinish, are being carried out by engineering staff from the OPW. The Minister said the removal of the blocking material in the Shannon over the coming months will enhance the conveyance capacity and navigation along the river. 
He reminded us that in January, 2016, the Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group was established by the Government to enhance ongoing co-operation across all of the State agencies involved with the River Shannon, including ESB, Waterways Ireland, Bord na Móna, Inland Fisheries Ireland, The National Parks and Wildlife Service, OPW and the relevant local authorities. 
He said the Shannon Group has taken a number of significant decisions since its establishment, including to trial the lowering of the levels on Lough Allen by 0.7 metres, which is the lowest level achievable without causing significant risk to existing waterway infrastructure and possible environmental issues. This protocol will be operated again this coming Winter. 
Earlier this year targeted maintenance works were carried out at Madden's Island, downstream of Banagher, where many trees which had been impeding the conveyance capacity and navigation of the Shannon were removed. Further works are to be carried out at Madden's Island in early 2018 when the next environmental window for works will allow. 
"In addition, following the receipt of consent from The National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on September 4, 2017 targeted works are being planned (for the appropriate seasonal windows) to be carried out at Meelick Weir, the New Cut at Breaninch and Illaunalliagh, Shannon Grove (Kilnaborris) and Marlborough Weir at Incherky. These plans also include the New Cut weir removal.  
"The problem with flooding on the Shannon has been a major issue for the last two hundred years. All of the analysis and reports in that time confirm that the river-wide catchment approach and improved co-ordination by all State Agencies involved is the correct approach. I would like to pay tribute to the Shannon Group for their trojan work in taking actions to alleviate flood risk on the Shannon. The Shannon Group is due to hold its next meeting on October 23 and I have no doubt that it will continue in its work to mitigate flood risk on the Shannon". 
The Minister added that it is anticipated that works will commence on the Athlone Flood Alleviation Scheme at the end of October.
In Limerick planning is ongoing for the King's Island Flood Relief Scheme and a preferred scheme is expected to be identified later this year. Limerick is the largest urban area on the Shannon and the city has suffered significant flooding in recent years especially at King's Island.
Construction of the Foynes Flood Relief Scheme was substantially completed a couple of months ago and this flood relief scheme will protect 157 residential and 31 commercial properties. 
The Minister pointed out that the Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management study identified that there are a number of natural restrictions to the river channel in the Banagher area of the Shannon Callows. It is these natural restrictions that are influencing Summer flood levels in the vicinity. Increasing the river channel conveyance at these natural restrictions is likely to reduce Summer flood levels. 
The Minister also referred to the scheduled maintenance by OPW of the Arterial Drainage Schemes in the Shannon catchment which is ongoing with €5 million being invested annually. In relation to maintenance of drainage districts which are the responsibility of local authorities, the Minister said that he and his colleague, Eoghan Murphy, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, are examining the existing funding arrangements for the maintenance of the Drainage Districts and a further announcement will be made in this regard shortly.  
"There is a considerable range of activities and works underway and planned for the Shannon catchment," he remarked. "The OPW and all of the agencies on the Shannon Group are working effectively in partnership to address the Shannon flooding problems and I am satisfied that the Group is fully committed to pro-actively addressing and managing flood risk in the catchment area". 
 Documentation, including the 2017 Work Programme, Agenda, Minutes and other material relating to meetings of the Group is available on the OPW website.

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