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Disappointment as Shannon dredging finishes for the year

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Disappointment as Shannon dredging finishes for the year thumbnail Members of the Mid Shannon Flood Relief Group at the pinch point on the Shannon at Muckinish, Meelick last week.

THERE was disappointment last week when it was announced that dredging work on the Shannon had stopped for the year.

A delegation from the Mid Shannon Flood Relief Group, representing communities living along the Shannon banks in Counties Westmeath, Offaly Galway and Roscommon, met with Minister Kevin "Boxer" Moran on Monday October 2 in his constituency office.

The delegation were wholesome in their praise for Ministers Kevin Moran and Sean Canney on firstly, getting the task of silt removal started at Muckinish, Lusmagh, a fortnight previously; and secondly, building the embankment at Portavolla, Banagher, in order to prevent the flooding of 44 houses. 

 However the Group expressed "great disappointment" that the silt removal project which had started at Muckinish, Lusmagh, on September 22 had finished on September 30 and no further silt removal projects are planned for this year. 

 Minister Moran told the group that this was due to the fact that the window for such projects agreed with the various agencies closed for the year on October 1. 

The OPW told the Tribune this week that the work was stopped on October 1 due to environmental agreements with various agencies but will start again next Spring.

Liam Broderick of the Mid Shannon Flood Relief Group told the Tribune that he and others in the group visited the silt removal site at Muckinish on Saturday September 30. 

"We complimented the OPW staff at work there on the cleanliness of the operation," he said, "the wonderful job that the silt curtain was doing to prevent silt flowing downriver and the plans that were in place to remove the silt from the riverbank at a later date. However we were extremely disappointed to hear that this was the only silt removal site to be completed this year despite the fact that Minister Moran announced on September 26 that the Muckinish site would be the first of several pinch points to be tackled this year.

"When we met Minister Moran on October 2 he told us that the work on silt removal will begin again in 2018 and that the OPW will be removing vegetation obstacles from several sites in the coming weeks.  

"A number of issues were then discussed during the meeting and both sides took the opportunity to express their views. We also examined aerial photos of the river and the various pinch points that have been identified".

The Minister told the group that he was in frequent contact with the ESB in Ardnacrusha over the past few weeks and the ESB informed him that they had been releasing extra water at Ardnacrusha and Parteen Villa Weir (up to 200 cubic metres a second during September). The ESB informed him that the flow of water was due to increase in October to about 300 cubic metres.

The delegation told him that water levels had risen recently in Athlone and Banagher (about 1 metre). This was due to water being released from Lough Ree (in mid September) and Lough Allen (on September 24). Therefore, they said, the release of extra water by the ESB at Ardnacrusha and Parteen Villa Weir before extra rain and floods come is vital. 

Mr Broderick said the Mid Shannon Flood Relief Group have been constantly calling for the lowering of water levels in the Shannon lakes and the release of extra water at Ardnacrusha and Parteen Villa Weir before floods rise, "in a co-ordinated manner so that the houses of families living along the banks of the Shannon will not be flooded."

They also asked the Minister to ensure that that the planned project to repair the walkway and automate the boards at Meelick be carried out as soon as possible.

The Minister, in turn, told the delegation that he had been in contact with Bord Na Móna and they had identified two areas where silt ponds had overflowed into the river Shannon and dredging could be done to remove this silt. He added that Bord na Móna are willing to allow some silt to be spread on cutaway bogs. 

 He said flood barriers will be erected on both banks of the Shannon in the centre of Athlone by the end of October; five miles of the Al river on the east of Athlone were now cleared; work has begun on flood defences in Iona park, Athlone.

"The delegation emphasised to the Minister," commented Mr Broderick, "that the Shannon needs to be restored to its place as the premier river in Ireland, a river for fishing, boating, cruising, water sports, tourists, walking trails, bird and wildlife enthusiasts etc and not a river that causes hardship to communities and to wildlife, not a river that is no longer a major tourist amenity. The Mid Shannon Flood Relief Group considers that ensuring that water can again flow freely in the Shannon, freeing obstacles such as silt and overhanging and emergent vegetation will help to end summer flooding and lessen the impact of winter flooding and so contribute immensely to the return of  tourists, fishermen and endangered species such as the Corncrake and the Curlew. The removal of silt islands/pinch points in the Shannon is of the utmost importance, the first step in making the Shannon a great river again. Spending money for the first time in a hundred years to clean up the river should be seen as an investment rather than a cost. 

"We also reiterated our deep feelings on the necessity for one Agency to be in control of the Shannon, with power to clean the silt from the Shannon, maintain the banks by removing vegetation, direct the ESB and Waterways Ireland to release water from the Lakes prior to major weather alerts (in a timely and organised fashion so that commumities living along the Shannon will not have houses flooded). 

"We pointed out the present impact of summer and winter flooding on the callow grassland, the Special Areas of Conservation and the natural habitats of the birds and wildlife along the banks of the Shannon. We said birdlife has suffered enormously due to excessive high floods resulting in the disappearance of the corncrake, the numbers of curlew declining and winter feeding habitats for waders/swans/geese being eroded. We also pointed out that any disturbance to wildlife by the removal of pinch points would be temporary and when finished will lead to an increase in the numbers of birds in the Shannon Callows.

 "We understand clearly that the Shannon will always flood in winter but the excessive floods of 2009/10 and 2015/16 can be avoided.

 "The delegation issued an invitation to Deputies Moran and Deputy Canney to come and travel the river by boat and see first hand the effect that these pinch points are having on the flow of the river. This invitation was accepted."  

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