Friday 23 August 2019

Town cut off by storms twice in five years demands action before lives are lost

Cobh harbour
Cobh harbour

Ralph Riegel

A town totally cut-off by storms twice in the space of five years after fallen trees blocked the only access route has demanded emergency action before lives are lost.

The Cork harbour town of Cobh was effectively cut off for several hours at the height of Storm Ophelia last month when heavy trees fell and blocked the R624 by Fota.

Cobh, which is built on Great Island, has only one road access point to the rest of Cork county via the R624 and Belvelly Bridge.

The severity of weather conditions at the height of the storm last month meant that ferries, rail services and helicopters could not have been used to access Cobh.

The Irish Independent has learned that, had a major emergency occurred in Cobh while the R624 was severed, the Defence Forces would have been asked to secure access to the town.

A number of workers heroically laboured on October 16 to cut and remove the trees to allow road links to be restored.

However, Cork East TD Kevin O'Keeffe warned that it was totally unacceptable for a major town and its hinterland of 12,000 people to

be cut-off for several hours.

"We need to ensure the safe and constant access to Cobh," he said.

"Just consider the hardship that was suffered by the persons who reside there with regard to accessibility during Storm Ophelia."

"It is simply not acceptable in this day and age for almost 12,000 people to be cut-off and stranded."

Mr O'Keeffe raised the crisis with Transport Minister Shane Ross but he pointed out it is a matter for Cork Co Council.

Mr Ross said no submission has been received by the Government for enhanced funding for new access routes to Cobh.

"The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads in its area is a statutory function of each road authority," Mr Ross said.

"Works on such roads are a matter for the relevant local authority to be funded from its own resources supplemented by State road grants."

"The initial selection and prioritisation of projects to be funded from these monies is a matter for each local authority."

"The department has not received a recent submission in relation to access to Cobh."

Cobh's Councillor Cathal Rasmussen said it was "beyond belief" that a major Irish town should have just a single, vulnerable access point.

"If there had been a serious accident in Cobh during the storm - and thank God no-one was seriously hurt - how would an ambulance reach the town with the only road in blocked by fallen trees," he asked?

Cobh locals now want a second public road link developed into the town.

The problem on the R624 is exacerbated by the fact that some of the large trees which line the route are a key historic element of the environmental and landscape profile of both Fota Wildlife Park, Fota House and Fota Golf Course.

Locals have warned that public safety should rank higher than environmental concerns with the old trees involved needing to be either cut down or dramatically trimmed back.

While a special access route does exist through Fota House estate for emergency services, that route is also vulnerable to fallen trees.

It is also totally unsuited to heavy traffic.

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