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Sunday 21 September 2014

ESB's 'dangerous' dams led to UCC flooding, court hears

Tim Healy

Published 19/06/2014 | 02:30

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Flooding in Cork city earlier this year
Flooding in Cork city earlier this year

THE ESB's handling of two hydroelectric dams was "highly dangerous" and contributed to severe flooding, University College Cork (UCC) has claimed.

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The Commercial Court is being asked to decide whether the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) must bear any liability for damage from flooding in Cork city in November 2009.

University College Cork (UCC), in a subrogated claim on behalf of its insurer Aviva, claims the ESB's management of water releases from its two hydroelectric dams at Iniscarra and Carrigadrohid on the River Lee led to significant unnecessary additional flooding.

It is claimed 30 acres of UCC's 80-acre campus were submerged under water and 29 campus buildings, including the Gluksman Gallery, Western Gateway Building, Maltings Complex, several student accommodation blocks and the entire Mardyke sports complex were damaged.

The ESB denies the claims and Mr Justice Max Barrett has begun a hearing, listed to last up to six months and involving evidence from geologists and hydrologists among others, to decide whether it has any legal liability.

Liability

If liability is found, there will be a separate hearing to determine damages, with UCC claiming €19m. Aviva's losses as a result of the flooding are more than €34m and the insurer intends to pursue the balance of its losses following the UCC proceedings.

UCC alleges the ESB was negligent and breached a duty of care to manage the dams, located 13km and 27km upstream from Cork city, and associated reservoirs so as to minimise the risk of flooding. It also claims the ESB wrongfully interfered with the enjoyment of its lands and created a nuisance.

Paul Gallagher SC, for the university, said the case involved "a sorry tale of missed opportunities" to handle an impending and severe problem in a way an organisation like the ESB would be expected to do.

UCC accepted the ESB's argument that the peak water flow through the city would have been higher if there were no dams at all.

However it was UCC's case that, had the dam discharges been managed differently, preventive measures could have been taken.

Instead, "huge" floods resulted from "ramping up" the discharge of water and a lot of people suffered "very harrowing and distressing" experiences due "in no small part" to the actions of the ESB.

Irish Independent

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