Following an alarming report by Clare County Council’s senior engineer concerning the inadequate condition of the river embankments to adequately protect the town of Shannon and the airport, Cllr Gerry Flynn has issued a call for the OPW to put in place a plan of action to strengthen these vital flood defences.
According to the independent councillor, the engineer’s report drew attention to a very serious situation. He also noted that the local authority received correspondence from the OPW on 22nd December concerning the threat from coastal erosion and flood embankment deficiencies. This letter stated that the OPW’s primary objective is to ensure that appropriate and sustainable measures are identified by local authorities to protect those areas at greatest risk of damage or loss. According to the OPW, “in the first instance, it is a matter for local authorities to identify and prioritise areas of their respective coastlines considered to be under significant threat and to put forward proposals to central Government for funding of appropriate erosion management measures.” The correspondence concludes that it is therefore more appropriate for Clare County Council to discuss these measures with their elected representatives.
Describing this as “a very serious issue”, Cllr Flynn said there are parts of Shannon that are more than one metre below sea level. He said flood defences at the airport were breached during the storms of 2014 and the recent CFRAM study has tried to separate the flood defences at the airport from those around the town of Shannon and this cannot be allowed. “Shannon residents cannot get insurance cover for flooding because the CFRAM study declared a lot of areas at risk of flooding,” Cllr Flynn claimed. He emphasised that Clare County Council must address this issue as a matter of urgency and suggested that the relevant director of service be invited to meet with Shannon Municipal District councillors as soon as possible. Since this matter came to light just before Christmas it has been rumoured that the proposed new house building schemes for Shannon may be put on hold as a result of the CFRAM study.
According to Cllr Pat McMahon his uncle owned huge tracts of land in the area before Shannon was built and during his lifetime he has never seen any major flood events here. However he did express concern that the embankment was breached at Shannon Airport during the 2014 storm with water cascading onto the road in the early morning, this was the first time he realised the potential threat posed from the estuary.
Cllr PJ Ryan noted that almost half of Holland is 10 metres below sea level yet that country has a system of dykes to effectively deal with the flood threat and other measures that are properly maintained. Commenting on the CFRAM report, Cllr Ryan said, “it looks like it was written by someone sitting in an office in Dublin who has no idea what the landscape looks like.” He would like a representative of the OPW to meet with councillors and explain what kind of a programme is needed to secure Shannon.
Cllr Cathal Crowe believes it’s “appalling” that nothing has been done about this issue. He said councillors are always looking for publicity for Shannon Airport but it will get all the wrong kind of publicity if this area floods, even international publicity that will be very damaging for the region. He pointed out that the CFRAM study on flood risk commenced in 2011 yet there has been six years of inaction during which time there has been three major flooding events nationally. Cllr Crowe was scathing as regards consultants and their reports, leaving mountains of paperwork that aren’t acted upon and costing huge amounts of money. “We are indecisive as a country, if this was Britain or France it would be seen as a major problem and solutions would be found”.
Cllr John Crowe accused the powers that be of “kicking the can down the road”, he said the embankments problem has been brought to their attention many times and described as “absolutely crazy” the idea of separating Shannon Town from the airport with regard to this issue. As Cathaoirleach of the municipal district, he proposed to call a special meeting with all the relevant stakeholders as soon as possible.
Commenting on the discussion, Cllr Gerry Flynn said the OPW is not relinquishing responsibility for this and contends that questions raised by himself and others have uncovered information that had been withheld. “We have flushed them out,” said Flynn. Cllr Flynn emphasisied that the most important piece of information in the OPW correspondence is that, “it is the responsibility of each local authority to identify, investigate and address on a prioritised basis problems of coastal flooding and erosion in their local areas”.