Despite the fact that Shannon Town is largely below sea level and dependent on an informal system of embankments to protect it against flooding, the area was not given priority status in a new flood-risk management plan formally announced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at an event in Athlone.
Instead, Shannon has been included on a list of 118 flood relief schemes to be implemented under the Government’s ten-year €1 billion investment programme along with measures for Bunratty, Springfield, Killaloe, Kilrush and Kilkee.
The investment plan is the culmination of a review of 300 flood-risk sites, part of the Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management Programme (CFRAM) study that began in 2012. The plan features 42 flood relief schemes completed in 2017, these include a scheme at Sixmilebridge. Another 33 schemes, including Ennis Lower and Ennis South, were underway in 2017.
Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, the Minister of State responsible for the Office of Public Works, announced that the first €257 million tranches of works at 50 schemes will be moved to the design stage immediately. Two Clare schemes feature on this list, at Springfield in Clonlara, and Kilkee.
The matter was raised at the recent Shannon Municipal District meeting by Cllr Gerry Flynn who expressed disappointment that the Shannon scheme has not been given more priority. Cllr Flynn has been campaigning for some time to address flood defence deficiencies at Shannon Town and the airport.
Noting that Shannon has been included among 118 schemes to be implemented over the next ten years, Cllr Flynn said a feasibility study for Shannon should have been completed weeks ago, but according to the Government announcement, it is still ongoing.
Recalling that the flood defences at Shannon Airport were breached in 2014 during a severe weather event, Cllr Flynn said Shannon Town and the airport are intrinsically linked and must be dealt with concurrently. In conclusion, he said it is the duty of councillors to make sure this issue remains on the “front-burner and not put on the back-burner”.
Cllr Pat McMahon also acknowledged that this is a serious issue for Shannon Town, the airport and the industrial estates. He believes that any flooding of the area could have catastrophic economic consequences for Shannon and would be a disaster for people living and working here.
Cllr McMahon said he would like to see details of the Shannon flood relief scheme in this report to know exactly what the implications are. He said if this was the east coast, it would be front page news on the national media but because it’s Shannon, it doesn’t get the headlines.
As someone who witnessed the River Shannon breaching the embankments in at 5.00am in 2014, Cllr McMahon said he will never forget seeing the waves coming over the airport car-park adjacent to the hotel which he described as “a frightening scenario”. “For the first time,” he said, “I could envisage the possibility of the airport, the town and the industrial estate being flooded.”
Cllr PJ Ryan expressed disappointment that the Government report does not prioritise Shannon Town and the airport for immediate funding. He is concerned that many local residents cannot get flood risk insurance for their properties.
Fianna Fáil councillor Cathal Crowe spoke of standing on the other side of the estuary and looking across to Shannon Airport. “You could just about see the tails of the planes, which clearly indicates how the airport relates to the sea levels. At any given time the airport is 18 feet below sea level where the planes are.” Cllr Crowe claims that solutions for Shannon have been put on the long finger and it appears that the OPW wants Shannon Airport to carry the cost of repairs to the embankments and that isn’t feasible.
Putting Government spending in perspective, Cllr Crowe reminded his colleagues that the total capital spend on Dublin’s Parnell Square is €60 million this year while the capital spend for the entire County Clare is only €24 million. “We are certainly the poor relation,” he added.
Cllr Gerry Flynn further stated that a proposed scheme of 21 social houses in Shannon is on hold because the site is listed as “at-risk” in the CFRAMs report. Cllr Pat McMahon proposed that Shannon District councillors convene a special meeting to consider the report on flood risk in Shannon as soon as it becomes available.
Commenting on the issue, the council’s director of service, Liam Conneally, said Clare County Council CEO, Pat Dowling, is convening a forum in relation to the Shannon embankments work that needs to be done. Mr Conneally acknowledged that the report into flood risk at Shannon is running late and said the CEO is keen to receive the final report so that funding representations can be made to the relevant Government departments for the necessary flood alleviation works for both Shannon Town and Shannon Airport.
Mr Conneally said the matter is being treated as a priority by the local authority. He noted that high-level meeting will be held in the coming weeks and months with a view to acquiring the money once an idea of the costs is available.