Warning bells have been sounded in relation to Shannon’s system of flood defences after Clare County Council’s senior engineer, Tom Tiernan, indicated a lack of confidence in the structural capacity of the system of defensive embankments to perform their intended functions into the future.
Responding in refreshingly forthright fashion to independent councillor Gerry Flynn’s motion, Mr Tiernan pointed out that Clare County Council is very concerned about a Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) report that indicates a “lack of confidence in the structural capacity of the embankments to perform their intended function into the future”.
Given the extent of global warming and climate change, urgent action is required to secure the future of Shannon Town and the airport as maintaining the status quo appears to be literally inviting disaster.
In his motion, Cllr Gerry Flynn called on the Office of Public Works (OPW) to meet with councillors to discuss what measures are planned to protect communities and vital infrastructure in vulnerable areas throughout Clare.
Putting this in context, Cllr Flynn referred to, “the serious threat to County Clare’s infrastructure from coastal erosion and flood embankment deficiencies”.
In an exemplary response, the council’s senior engineer, Tom Tiernan, agreed with the emphasis articulated by Cllr Flynn and clearly stated, “there is reason for concern regarding significant and critically strategic sections of the Co. Clare coastline”.
According to Mr Tiernan the importance of this issue has come to the fore in recent years as a result of severe storms in early 2014 which inflicted very significant damage on coastal defences, roads, tourist amenities, resorts and other infrastructure at more than 40 locations around the county.
Regarding the national CFRAM process which is primarily focused aroundShannon Town, he said the report, “acknowledges the existence of the embankments which separate Shannon Town and Shannon Airport from the estuary but does not adopt a position regarding the integrity or otherwise of same”.
“As I understand it,” said Mr Tiernan, “these embankments were never formally designed to meet particular standards and they have an inclination to settle and require topping up from time to time. The town section is the responsibility of the OPW while the airport section is the responsibility of the airport authority. “The council is very concerned that the CFRAM report provides very little comfort regarding the integrity of these embankments or their capacity to defend the town and airport from coastal flooding in the event of further severe weather events occurring. “Also it is a matter of concern that CFRAM deals with the town and airport embankments as separate entities and appears to put inappropriate emphasis on individual responsibility for separate sections of embankment above the overall need to define what action is required to ensure an appropriate level of protection for Shannon (town and airport) into the future”.
Of critical importance, Mr Tiernan pointed to the propriety of facilitating development within areas which are potentially at risk of flooding, arising from the lack of confidence in the structural capacity of the embankments to perform their intended function into the future.
“This,” he said, “is a matter of particular concern given that the economy is now in recovery mode, development pressures in Shannon are increasing and there are needs to be met such as the future provision of housing in the town”. In his conclusion Mr Tiernan stated, “An urgent strategic approach is required with a view to ensuring that the current structural status of the Shannon embankments is defined as soon as possible so as to determine the extent of all necessary works required to secure the future integrity and protection of the town, the industrial zones and the airport”.
Cllr Flynn acknowledged the very comprehensive response from Mr Tiernan, which he said “makes for very worrying reading”. He commented that people dread a recurrence of the 2014 events and have become tired of inaction and waiting for consultant’s reports.
He also took issue with CFRAM separating Shannon town and airport into separate entities given that any prospective future tidal surge would not distinguish between residential areas and commercial entities.
Cllr Flynn recalled that the embankment adjacent to the airport had been breached during the 2014 storms. As a consequence of this he said residents now have difficulty getting insurance on their homes because of the risk to flooding that was subsequently indicated in the CFRAM report.
Describing the senior engineer’s response as “alarming”, Cllr Flynn insisted that it should now be taken seriously by the Office of Public Works.
Ennis councillor Johnny Flynn said he had made a submission to the CFRAM study to indicate that Shannon Airport is a critical piece of infrastructure and should be protected.
He also insisted that the airport should not be be treated separately “just because of the independence from the Dublin Airport Authority” as it remains a priority site for emergency landings on the North Atlantic.
Commenting on the flood defences for Shannon, Cllr Johnny Flynn noted that companies may be considering investments at a time of great uncertainty and said that if the airport embankments are breached, the town of Shannon could be flooded. “This will not just affect the airport and industry, but a significant number of people whose homes are built on a floodplain there. “This is a huge problem and we need to get clarity on what is being done,” said Cllr Johnny Flynn. Fianna Fáil councillor Pat Hayes insisted that the OPW must be proactive and not reactive and put in solid flood defences.
In his concluding remarks senior engineer Tom Tiernan said it is his view that the policies relating to coastal protection and the flood embankments are vague and need clarification by the various stakeholders. While acknowledging that a lot of work has been done in partnership with the OPW, including Ennis flood defences, Mr Tiernan said the Shannon situation needs strategic thinking and focus to secure the structural integrity of the embankments.