The senior official with Wexford County Council overseeing the Enniscorthy Flood Defence scheme has said he doesn't expect there to be too many changes required to the design when the current review by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is completed.
As part of EU regulations introduced at the end of 2019, the scheme has to be reviewed by the minister's department to ensure its compliant with all statutory regulations.
Senior Executive Engineer Larry McHale relayed that news to the members of Enniscorthy Municipal District Council at their monthly meeting last week.
Following that meeting, this newspaper spoke to Mr McHale about the project and he outlined what the process entails. He also said he expects the project to meet the majority, if not all, of the requirements under the new regulations.
'The EU regulations were brought in at the latter part of 2019,' said Mr McHale.
He said the new measures required that the minister reviews the Environment Impact Assessment Report of the scheme.
'Under the regulations, he has to examine that and ensure that it's been done correctly,' he said.
The Natura Impact Statement will also be reviewed but Mr McHale pointed out that was always part of the process but the new EU measure has just put it on a regulatory footing.
'They would have been part of the scheme process anyway but this new regulation requires them to do it,' he said.
The review is being undertaken at the moment and because of the OPW cannot give a definitive date on which the main work on the project can start because further information might be required by the department or that changes might be required to the design as a result of the review.
However, Mr McHale said that would be the worst case scenario and he is confident it won't be the case.
'If we have to provide further information it could extend the [start] date and if design changes to have to be implemented that could further extend the date,' he added.
'It doesn't mean there will be major changes needed or an extended delay but it could happen.'
'Legally, he [the minister] has to go through the process with an independent assessor to do it,' said Mr McHale.
'It might be done fairly rapidly and I would expect this [the scheme] to go through the process fairly smoothly,' he added.
Mr McHale said it will likely take six to 12 months for the process to be completed.
The consultants for the scheme, Mott MacDonald, were appointed in November, 2015, while Roughan & O'Donovan were appointed as the design consultant for the new road bridge and traffic management plan.
The ecology survey took place over two years to enable catchment patterns to be established and Mr McHale said detailed site investigations also took two years and contractors were appointed to carry out both.
'The archaeological excavation survey of the river is ongoing at the moment too,' said Mr McHale.
He said that will enable specific and important things identified to be recorded properly.
With regard to ecology, new species were identified that meant the original ecology report for the project dating back to 2009 had to be updated.
'We had a public consultation display in 2018, for the first time, and 400 people attended over four weeks,' said Mr McHale.
'We received a number of submissions that resulted in further changes being required,' he added.
'We had to make changes to the scheme and that included traffic management plan drawings.'
Mr McHale said the local authority had hoped to submit the scheme to the department at the end of 2018 but the OPW decided it would be better to take it back to a full public exhibition.
He said there was a public exhibition in 2009 and because that was 10 years previous, the OPW wanted to make sure that the issues raised by submissions were considered and addressed.
The full exhibition process took place again in 2019 and Mr McHale said that to make that happen within a year was 'good going'.
The 2019 exhibition took place over four weeks with a further four weeks for submissions to be made.
The updated and completed proposal was submitted to the OPW in December 2019, which went through the project documents and submitted them to the department in March, this year.
Meanwhile the local authority worked at ensuring that all up-to-date licences and documents were in place for the scheme to be built once approval was granted.
'We have agreements in place and are very progressed in terms of licences to enable the project to proceed,' said Mr McHale.
As part of the project the invasive species, Japanese Knotweed, had to be treated over a four-year period and the UN monument that was located at the 1798 centre was relocated to the Orchard Peace Park.
That move was required because it was at the location where the new roundabout will be constructed as part of the new bridge works.
Extensive consultation has also taken place with stakeholders in the town, including Enniscorthy & District Chamber, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and those involved in fishing.
Mr McHale said that while guarantees can't be given, he was hopeful that the current review will not lead to major changes having to be take place with regard to the scheme.
'It could still be 12 months before approval comes back but I would be confident that it won't require significant changes to be made,' he said.