A LARGE portion of an underground drainage system running through Bantry's Wolfe Tone Square is unstable and in danger of collapsing.
John Lapthorne, a senior engineer with Cork County Council describing the mid section â which runs from the middle of Wolfe Tone Square to Vickery's in New Street â as being in need of replacement due to its unstable condition.
Because the failure of the masonry could lead to a collapse, he said the project is to be given priority. Works would involve closing the street causing major disruption to all businesses. However, Mr Lapthorne did say it would be possible to carry out the work in 20 to 30 meter stretches.
Mr Lapthorne said: âThe unvarnished truth is that it is going to be very, very expensive.'
Speaking to members of the West Cork Municipal District, Mr Lapthorne, explained that the drain, which was developed in three parts is, in fact, an old culvert system carrying a stream from the centre of town to the sea.Â
A recent survey revealed that two of its three sections can be repaired but the centre section will have to be replaced.
The first part of the culvert from the car park near the harbour to the middle of Wolfe Tone Square measures 88 meters and is a box culvert that can be repaired.
However, the second section, which measures 221 meters from the centre of the square to Vickery's, is a twin arch system that will have to be replaced.
The third section measures 137 meters from Vickery's to Bantry Library. This section is a single stone masonry arch culvert and can also be repaired.
âNow that we know what is underground,' Mr Lapthorne said, âwe can proceed to get a consultant's report, which would involve costing the repair or replacement work required.'
Mr Lapthorne said 90% of the culvert is accessible and virtually all of it is tidal, but the problem is further complicated by the fact that there are âquite a few' foul sewers running into the culvert.
He said: âThat would present a difficulty for workers' and the sewers would have to be diverted before carrying out the repair works.
He described the underground conditions saying: âSome of the businesses are sharing an abutment of the arch.'
ThisÂ means the culvert is right up against some of the buildings.
The engineer said the repair of the middle section âis not straightforward by any manner of means.'Â
He said that is why the CouncilÂ is currently working on preparing a brief for a consulting engineer.
The plan is to excavate the twin arch and replace it with a box culvert made of reinforced concrete.
Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF) said there was no getting away from the fact that the work needs to be done.Â
Cllr Danny Collins (Ind) urged the Council officials to consult with local residents and the business community as soon as possible.Â
Cllr John O'Sullivan (FG) said the work will probably have to be done during the summer months when the water flow is low and that is going to be âa big issue for traders.'
But he said business people in Bantry canÂ âtake heart' from the lessons Clonakilty learned when much of the town's main thoroughfare was dug up for a major drainage project.
The councillors also expressed concerns that a reduction in the staffing levels in the council's architect's department could delay the administration work needed to get this project started.
Cllr Mary Hegarty (FG) asked that Bantry be considered for a streetscape update similar to Clonakilty's award-winning Astna Square: âI'd like to see a proper plan for the future of Bantry town centre.'Â
Cllr John O'Sullivan (FG) agreed saying: âA design team should be appointed as a matter of urgency.'