Almost €750,000 has been spent by Westmeath County Council in its effort to defend Athlone and its environs from the rising waters of the River Shannon since the beginning of December.
Councillors were informed of the figure by director of services for Athlone, Barry Kehoe, at this week’s Athlone Municipal District meeting. Mr Kehoe referred to the expenditure as “significant but necessary”. With flood defences expected to be in place for a further three to four weeks this figure is expected to rise further.
A total of 80,000 sandbags were made and distributed to residents of Athlone since the crisis began on December 4, some 1,200 of which were one tonne in weight and “greatly effective”, according to councillors.
Up to December 18, a figure of €241,000 had been spent by the council on defences in the town, a sum that has already been refunded in full by the Department of the Environment.
A further €303,000 in expenses was accrued between December 18 and the beginning of January, and another €200,000 between January 1 and Monday of this week, bringing the figure to a little under €750,000 to date.
Mr Kehoe said the council hope that some of the defences can be decommissioned next week and is already planning for the impending clean-up. Areas will be cleaned as the water recedes and the council will provide assistance to private property owners as much as possible, on a case-by-case basis.
Once the clean-up operation is underway the council will sit down and set out a plan on how to enhance the worst affected areas to prevent future flooding. This will include raising roads and reinforcing others after many surfaces broke apart under the pressure of the water in recent weeks. Department of Transport funding will be applied for in order to complete these works. Mr Kehoe said that the project will take time but is entirely necessary.
Flooded homes will be assessed to see if future defence is feasible. Mayor Tom Farrell expressed his gratitude to all those who “put their shoulders to the wheel” in recent weeks battling the flood waters. He commended hotels, restaurants, businesses, and locals for putting themselves forward to help those affected without having to be asked.
Independent councillor, Michael O’Brien, commended the work of Cllr Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran for the effort he has put in since the situation deteriorated at the beginning of December.
Fianna Fáil councillor, Aengus O’Rourke, said the time for action is now. Mr O’Rourke said funding for defences needs to be accessed immediately, and that with local knowledge certain measures can be taken in the coming months prior to the publication of the CFRAM report.