A family home built more than 250 years ago will soon be claimed by the sea after an erosion study carried out by Wexford County Council (WCC) deemed it not worth saving. The house, which belongs to Willie and Lal Pierce, is located beside Ballyhealy Beach in a part of the county which has been beset by coastal erosion in recent years.
And while a €370,000 scheme to protect houses further along the coast was approved by the Office of Public Works (OPW) last year, the Pierce homestead has fallen below the strict criteria set out by the national authority. In order to determine whether the house - along with eight other homes and a commercial property - were in need of a coastal protection scheme, WCC appointed Malachy Walsh Consultants to carry out a preliminary assessment of the area.
“The length of the coastline assessed was 1.5km,” said environmental engineer George Colfer at the monthly meeting of the Rosslare Municipal District (RMD). “We asked them to look at historic and current rates of erosion, tides, waves, cliff instability, environmental and planning issues, then do a cost-benefit analysis. The report looked at six ways to protect the area, including rock armour, a concrete wall, a sea wall, soil nailing on the cliff, sheet piling, realigned roads, or a combination of all of the above. The economic assessment is that there’s one property at risk and the cost of installing 100 metres of rock armour is €375,000.”
Mr Colfer explained that in order In to secure funding from the OPW, the council must present a plan which is equal to or higher than the OPW’s cost-benefit analysis ratio of 1.5: a metric determined by the overall cost of the project and its likely benefit to the area. The cost-benefit of the project at Ballyhealy, according to the preliminary assessment, was 0.21.
“So we won’t be applying for funding, we wouldn’t meet the funding criteria,” he said. “There is no viable coastal protection scheme. In saying that we will still submit the report to the OPW and continue to monitor the area.”
Describing himself as “disappointed but not surprised”, Councillor Ger Carthy requested that both Mr Colfer and his colleague Gerry Forde be the ones to personally deliver the news to the couple who are both in their eighties.
“This looks to me like a fait accompli. There’s been work done in other areas with no reports,” he said. “We should be doing the best to support our people when we send work up to the OPW. Minister (of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works) Patrick O’Donovan was down here a year ago and told us to send up reports and he would do his best to get them over the line. And yet you two bring in a report which has a cost benefit of 0.21.”
Both Cllr Carthy and Cathaoirleach Lisa McDonald said there was no need to send the report to the OPW in its current guise with the former requesting a meeting with Malachy Walsh to discuss further. For Cllr McDonald however, the issue lay in what she called a “nonsensical” system.
“These rules are out of date, I was in Wales a few weeks ago and I saw an amazing project; they were revitalising the beach area that was gone, it was back in action and back being used,” she said. “And meanwhile we’re allowing land to fall into the sea in Ireland, other countries are going back in and reclaiming land. This (criteria) makes no sense, it might be okay in 2022 but it won’t be okay in 2042 when another half mile has fallen into the sea. We need a proper policy that’s going to protect land, but if the rules are nonsense you’re going to get nonsense. If you’re fighting against rules that are archaic and nonsensical it doesn’t bode well for the results.”
Defending the council’s methods, Mr Forde said the aim was always to “try and protect property where we can and we do our best. We try and get schemes done (that meet the criteria), we are well-intentioned to try and resolve these schemes. We share your disappointment, there are five or six areas across the district we’re concerned about and we’re working on an overall strategy targeting the areas at risk.”
Speaking after the meeting and having received the bad news, Lal Pierce said she and her husband were “very disappointed and very upset”. “They told us they’ll keep an eye on it but that’s not much good to us. The erosion hasn’t been as bad this year, we’ve put stones out ourselves, but it’s only a matter of time before the house goes.”