Wednesday 25 April 2018

€100,000 defence plan could have saved Athlone, says expert

Local residents feed the swans at the flood barriers at Wolfe Tone Terrace, Athlone, Co Westmeath
Local residents feed the swans at the flood barriers at Wolfe Tone Terrace, Athlone, Co Westmeath

Claire McCormack

Athlone town could have "easily escaped" the rising waters of the River Shannon if the Government had invested just €100,000 in a temporary defence system, a flood expert has claimed.

Shane Curran, managing director of Global Flood Solutions, said all homes and businesses could have been protected if his 'Big Bad Defence System' had been in place before Storm Desmond arrived last weekend.

The system uses sandbag technology to bind together to create an abutted wall with full protection against flooding.

Mr Curran says the emergency system is used by the United Nations in Somalia, Nigeria and Afghanistan, and helped protect utility companies during Hurricane Sandy in New York in 2013.

Shannon Foynes Port in Limerick is the only company in the country that has opted for the structure.

The former Roscommon goalkeeper and GAA pundit said the innovative flood barrier would have saved the major port on the banks on the Shannon Estuary around €2m in additional damage and clean-up charges by the time the latest Atlantic storm passes.

He claims that if the same system was in place in Athlone, the current flood battle could have been avoided.

"This situation is easily preventable - I would say the cost of €100,000 would go a hell of a long way to saving the whole town of Athlone," he added.

"Our system would be quite effective along the banks of the Shannon and they could be used outside homes. It's adaptable, flexible and, most critically, affordable.

"I've a path worn to the door of TDs and local representatives over the last six years and nobody has listened.

"It's a bit like see no evil, do no evil. There are too many arms of the State involved - you've got fisheries, water and the ESB, who control the water, and the OPW, but there is no joined-up thinking whatsoever."

However, he said a suite of other measures and issues also needed to be addressed and adopted by local authorities and communities.

"The traditional way of doing things with sandbags and tonne bags is gone. It's a bit like a surgeon putting a band-aid on a heart transplant patient - you cannot do it, it's impossible and it takes too much man-power.

"Our system is quick, fluid, flexible and adaptable to all types of terrain and can be deployed very easily, you don't need massive man-power," he added.

Mr Curran is also calling on the Government to appoint a national director with responsibility for putting effective control mechanisms in place.

"People are really, really worried and it's very frustrating on a personal level because I know I can help. It's just typical of the Government to offer €5m in flood funding instead of investing and putting a plan in place," he said.

Sunday Independent

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