'Shannon deemed at risk but we've never had a flood'
While there is no history of Shannon town or its airport ever experiencing serious flooding, many locals may be surprised to find its defences "are not fit for purpose".
As the town is below sea level, the Shannon Estuary Flood Defences are critical to its protection. While protected by embankments and two pumping stations, the Office of Public Works (OPW) says new embankments totalling almost 7km and new defence walls of almost 5km are needed to protect our third-biggest airport.
It serves more than 1.6 million passengers a year. Almost €40m needs to be spent to protect against coastal flooding. If the works aren't undertaken, potential damages of almost €270m may arise in a worst-case scenario.
Local Sinn Féin councillor Mike McKee believes the closure of the airport due to flooding would have a serious impact. "The airport is such an important international amenity. It serves the entire mid-west population, but it's also the last airport between Europe and America," he said.
"The amount of flights that travel through that airport on a daily basis is massive. If there was a flood and the airport closed down, it would be a very big problem both nationally and internationally.
"The embankments around Shannon airport are well inspected, but I believe it should be inspected much more to a calibre where there will be no flood risk at all."
A Shannon Airport spokesperson said that in its 70 years of operation the airport had never closed for a flood-related issue. "We are liaising with the OPW and Clare County Council on a solution to address any potential risk identified as part of the OPW review of coastal flooding defences," he said.
While new walls and embankments are proposed, other defence mechanisms include diverting waters to a natural storage area and constructing new coastal defences.
While many locals believe their homes will never fall victim to intruding waters, the OPW's flood risk analysis has already affected Shannon town.
Flood Defence Works Interactive Map
This tool sets out the cost of installing flood defences, the damages which might arise and number of properties under threat, in the most at-risk areas across the State.
It is based on data from the draft Flood Risk Management Plans, produced by the Office of Public Works (OPW), following extensive surveys of 90 coastal communities, and more than 6,500kms of river channel.
The country is divided into 29 Units of Management (UoMs), which are areas covered by a single river basin or covered by a group of smaller rivers. Given its size, works required along the Shannon are set out in three UoM.
Clicking on the icons show the works required in each area.
The urban area is highlighted at the top, and the UoM beneath. The cost of proposed works is set out in €m. The ‘damage uncapped’ figure relates to the total cost of damages to properties and infrastructure which would arise if nothing was done.
The ‘damage’ figure is based on the value of the properties at risk. This figure is used to determine if a scheme should go ahead – if the cost of the damage is less than the cost of providing defences, the scheme may not go ahead. This is the cost-benefit ratio. If it’s less than one, the scheme doesn’t make financial sense.
The final figure is the number of properties protected.
Some icons contain less information. For example, Tullig in Kerry is part of the Castleisland flood defence scheme so no information is contained. The OPW has also identified other areas as being at low risk, or says the existing flood defence regime should be maintained. In other cases it notes the need for a forecasting system, or says if a scheme is underway.
Further information is at http://maps.opw.ie/floodplans/
According to Mr McKee, the Government withdrew funding to develop 70 houses due to this flood-risk assessment. Many people in Shannon also find it impossible to get house insurance due to the town being in a flood-risk area.
"The issue of flooding is not a hot talking point except when people try and get house insurance," he said. "They are always refused because we are deemed a flood risk. But the reality is that we've never had a serious flood ever."