Saturday 24 August 2019

'We were millimetres from disaster... we were very lucky'

Cllr Niamh Kennedy with butcher Johnny McLoone. Photo: North West Newspix
Cllr Niamh Kennedy with butcher Johnny McLoone. Photo: North West Newspix
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

The Co Donegal harbour town of Killybegs has been slowly dragging itself out of decades of decline as its fishing fleet dwindled.

Now food processing and tourism are helping the home town of Ireland soccer captain Seamus Coleman to emerge from recession. The port is now a stop-off for massive cruise liners, adding to the trawlers which dock on a daily basis.

But there's a niggle in the back of the minds of residents, especially those who live and work close to the harbour wall.

On January 4, 2012, a combination of high tides, torrential rain and a storm sent millions of litres of water over the current defences towards local businesses.

"We were just millimetres from disaster," says Johnny McLoone, whose family have had a butcher shop in Killybegs since 1921. "The water came right up to the front door, travelled more than 30 metres from the shore.

"Thankfully it stopped just short and I mean 'just'. It was just a few millimetres from coming into the shop. We were just very, very lucky and we knew it."

The business - which employs six staff - had just expanded to include a deli and a bakery. "It was tough so we diversified a bit and that has helped us over the past few years," said Johnny.

"Since that incident in 2012, any sign of bad weather or a high tide and it's there in your mind. You do worry it will happen again and the next time we won't be so lucky. We'd certainly welcome any measures to prevent it happening."

The Office of Public Works believes that €8.8m is needed on flood defences to make the town safe. There are 161 properties, including a health centre, at risk from coastal flooding. The OPW recommends that 1.3km of hard defences, or flood walls up to one metre high, and road raising is completed. Killybegs is one of 26 areas recommended for further assessment in the north-west.

"The whole thing is speculative but, as the report quotes, the estimated sea level rise at Belfast is 31.6cm by 2095," said local community activist and councillor Niamh Kennedy. "This report is not about immediate risk but deals with timely responses to long-term changes on a global scale. Now is the time to weigh the options and take appropriate action."

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

Irish Independent

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