independent

Sunday 20 August 2017

Stopping the floods

OPW publish flood plans: The bill for protecting Louth's towns and villages from coastal and river flooding comes to €85million. Margaret Roddy reports

Few things can be more frightening for a home owner or business person than to see flood waters approaching their property. For many in Louth's coastal communities or areas close to rivers, it's a nightmare they dread, especially in the winter months when storms, rough seas and heavy rainfall see them constantly checking the weather forecast.

The storms of recent winters have seen catastrophic flooding around the country while the tidal surges of 1981 and 2002 caused a huge amount of damage in Dundalk, Blackrock and the Cooley peninsula.

Now, the OPW has prepared a series of plans for over 300 cities, towns and villages around the country deemed to be at significant risk which aim at providing flood protection at a cost of €853million.

In Louth, €85million is needed to protect homes, businesses, health care facilities, industrial premises and roads. The bill for projects required to prevent 1,400 properties in Dundalk and Blackrock from flooding is over €40million, while a further €21.6 million is needed for Carlingford and Greenore.

Other areas identified in the plans as being prone to flooding include Annagassan, Ardee, Termonfeckin, as well as Baltray and Drogheda.

The plans were drawn up through the National Catchment-based Flood Risk Assessment and Mangement (CFRAM) Programme and Louth comes under the Neagh Bann and the Boyne catchment areas.

They come about following years of detailed engineering analysis and entensive public consultation, including public meetings in Dundalk, Carlingford, Drogheda and Ardee, where local residents were able to outline their concerns, as well as briefings with local authorities.

The plans all require Ministerial approval and will then be presented to local Councils for adoption. After this, a programme for the implementation of capital works will be drawn up which will give an indication of when the works will be carried out. Detailed designs will have to be prepared and the tendering process completed before any work gets underway, and funding remains a crucial issue in determining when the works are carried out.

A cost benefit analysis has been drawn up so that not all the plans will be advanced if the cost of the works required is greater than the damage which the floods would cause. Under this cost benefit analysis, it's unlikely that works will be carried out in Annagassan or Ardee as part of this programme. In Annagassan, the cost of works to protect 34 properties is €3.37milion against a €3.13million damages, while in Termonfeckin €354,000 would have to be spent to protect seven properties against €32,000 damage.

Dundalk Green Party councillor Mark Dearey has an interest in the flood prevention plans which extend beyond his role as a public representative. As the owner of The Spirit Store on Dundalk's George's Quay, he knows only too well the damage which flood waters can cause and he has had to have special 'flood gates' manufactured to protect his premises.

The plans are 'very significant for Dundalk', he says. 'In my mind they give the town some certainty around how we can develop in the future.'

'CFRAM has identified what we need to protect and what we need to let flood and this is a significant step forward,' he says.

He says that the cost of the works will be 'significant' but that the cost benefit analysis for Dundalk and Blackrock South is not in question as €40million flood prevention measures would prevent an estimated €130million in insurance claims for damage to 1400 properties.

'That's a 3 to 1 ratio and it's the strength of our case, although it won't be of any consolation to people in places like Annagassan which are being left out but it will be up to the local authority to develop their own plans for places like that.'

He said he would be 'very hopeful' that Dundalk will get the work it requires but warned that proper planning and enforcement would be needed so that the adverse effects of planning so that the run-off of rain water wouldn't add to the problems in already built-up areas.

While some of the proposals contained in the plans are for 'hard' solutions like flood barriers, he points out that there are other solutions such as compensating farmers in key locations to allow their lands to be flooded.

Balmer's Bog, for instance, is valuable in retaining water following heavy rainfall, and he was aware of schemes which used motorways as a man made buffer to keep water away from vulnerable areas which are prone to flooding. 'It happens in Holland and it's something that could be adapted and used here.'

Protecting communities from flooding caused by swollen rivers or mountain streams is one aspect of the plans, while the other concentrates on coastal communities at risk from tidal surges.

While welcoming the plans that would see 18km of defences to protect Dundalk and Blackrock from coastal flooding, he said that his chief criticism was that the design criteria doesn't take future sea levels into account.

'Tidal flooding is also driven by climate change and there is enough water stored in the icecaps, that if the glaciers started melting, even a half meter increase would have shocking implications for places like Dundalk which are built on reclaimed land.'

He said that the plans had been drawn up to cater for storm surges based on current sea levels. 'They will do that job which is great but the question I have asked from CFRAM is if the barriers can be raised in future and I haven't got a clear answer.'

He is also concerned that there is no clarity around when funding will be available to implement the plans, which have come in at double the total current budget for flood prevention measures.

'It's a pressing problem as every winter which goes by without a flood, we are thankful, but nobody knows what the next winter will bring.'

Mid-Louth councillor Pearse McGeough says he is 'extremely disappointed' that Annagassan may lose out if the cost benefit analysis is applied to the plans. 'This is bad news as there have been issues when the river bank was breached and also along the coast leaving a number of homes extremely vulnerable.'

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