BY JACKIE KEOGH
WEST Cork councillors have called on the Government to introduce emergency legislation to carry out road repairs and flood relief works.
At a meeting of the West Cork Municipal District on Monday, Cllr Declan Hurley (Ind) was critical of the number of EU directives and procedures that are ‘hindering’ vital flood relief works, such as the dredging of rivers.
He tabled a motion – that will be considered by the full Council meeting on Monday, January 11th – calling on the Government to introduce emergency legislation that would ‘facilitate the cleaning, dredging and maintenance’ of the country’s waterways without reference to current ‘obstacles’.
A second motion, approved by all of the members, calls on the Council to provide additional funding to adequately carry out the annual roads maintenance programme, as well as flood prevention works.
‘The whole of West Cork is like a disaster area,’ Cllr Michael Collins (Ind) stated at the meeting on Monday – a point of view that was supported by Cllr Noel O’Donovan (FG) who said: ‘It is a disaster zone when it comes to roads.’
With the Council’s area engineer in Dunmanway, Cait Lehane, confirming that 13 roads in the Dunmanway area alone have been closed due to flood damage, the councillors’ comments were not considered to be hyperbole.
Cllr Hurley said: ‘It is like Groundhog Day. The same overflowing rivers are damaging the same roads time and time again. But as long as the rivers remain silted-up, we will have the same surface water causing the same problems. And, by now, it has happened so often, our road network is falling apart.
‘We have had a lot of water on our roads since December 5th and that has already caused extensive damage, but if it gets very cold, our road network will implode due to the surface water freezing and expanding.’
He said resources need to be put in place so that West Cork’s rivers and waterways can be properly cleaned and maintained. ‘It is the only way they will be able to cope with the volume of water during the storms.’
He claimed: ‘Current legislation has become so bureaucratic. Our rivers and waterways have been neglected and can no long hold the same volume of water anymore. We should not have to wait endless years for flood prevention works to be carried out – not while homes and businesses are being damaged and millions of euros worth of road repair works are simply being washed away.
‘The real problem of unmaintained rivers has to be tacked in the short term, while the longer term solutions are being put in place.’
Although it is outside of the West Cork Municipal District area, one road in Kilbrittain had all the councillors talking. Cllr Collins said it too was ‘like a disaster area’ and he rather colourfully described how the surface of the road was ‘lifted like a carpet’ by the torrential flood.
Cllr Joe Carroll (FF) said the people of Skibbereen were thankful that there was ‘only minimal damage in the town’, but he, like the other councillors, said great credit was due to the emergency services including the Civil Defence, the Fire Brigade, Council staff, the gardai and the farmers who brought their slurry tanks to town to pump the surface water away from the affected areas.
With two-thirds of our road tax going to Irish Water, Cllr Carroll said: ‘More of our road tax should be given back to Cork County Council – the highest amount of cash is coming in from Cork County and we have the worst roads.’
Cllr Noel O’Donovan pointed out that the Council’s Winter Maintenance Programme – the programme that is supposed to cover general maintenance, drainage works, and the salting or roads when it is icy – has been halved since 2008, despite the fact that since 2009 the Council has had to deal with far more storms and floods.
Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF) said it was lunacy to resurface roads that have been damaged ‘again and again and again.’ He said: ‘Flood events, like December 5th and December 30th, are going to be with us on an ongoing basis so we have to face up to that and develop a national strategy.’
In supporting both motions, Cllr Murphy gave a case in point. He said four homes in the Ballylickey area were flooded by the Ouvane River – a river that was last dredged in 1962. ‘We are going to have to bite the bullet and dredge our rivers,’ he said.
Every time there is a flood, Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) said: ‘There is the sense of “here we go again”.
We need a better co-ordinated national response to flood disasters and the Government should be tapping in to EU Structural Funds.’
He agreed with Cllr Hurley that ‘vital dredging and river cleaning works should be legislated for’ and he was critical of ‘an over-emphasis on the EU Habitats Direction and other regulations to the detriment of homeowners and businesses.
‘Surely commonsense should dictate that people need to be looked after first and foremost and that the rivers could possibly be re-stocked at a later date if needs be.’
Both Cllr Hayes and Cllr Mary Hegarty (FG) also suggested the use of non-return valves’ saying they would assist people – like those affected in New Street are in Bantry – where much of the flooding comes up through the pipes.
Area engineers in West Cork are still assessing the extent of damage throughout the region, but they will be submitting a detailed account of the roads closures, and those in need of repair, plus the estimated cost of the works, at the full Council meeting on January 11th.