Local Save Our Shannon Organisation continue to express Callows concerns

RONAN FAGAN

The local Save Our Shannon Organisation (SOSO ) has expressed disappointment that it was not made aware of a recent visit to the problematic Callows region of the river by OPW Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O’Donovan.

Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser, a spokesperson for the SOSO, noted that an email issued to the Minister on June 1 inviting Deputy O’Donovan to visit the Callows was acknowledged but did not receive a formal response.

“On hearing of the Minister’s proposed trip to the Shannon Callows a swift decision was made by our group to meet with him and members arranged to be in Banagher Harbour when Deputy O’Donovan was due to arrive.

“We assumed, as victims of persistent flooding, that the Minister would take time to observe some of the pinch points that are causing the problematic issues in the Shannon Callows which he is planning to have removed by Waterways Ireland under the auspices of the OPW.

“Two of our members journeyed to such pinch points under the assumption that we would meet the Minister at this location and discuss their removal.

“However, the Minister, accompanied by Waterways Ireland representatives did not visit such pinch points - this we can confirm with absolute certainty,” the spokesperson stated.

According to the spokesperson, the OPW Minister noted that plans were being progressed, environmental assessments conducted and permissions were being sought for the removal of a number of pinch points and that the relevant work would proceed courtesy of Waterways Ireland.

“Upon being queried with regard to the progression of such plans by Michael Silke, Chairperson, SOSO, the Minister did not provide a time frame for the start and conclusion of the relevant works for which €7m was allocated in December 2019,” the spokesperson commented.

Broaching the issue, Liam Broderick, PRO, SOSO, acknowledged that while progressive work to prevent flooding in urban areas was most welcome, rural residents in the Shannon Callows were being continuously impacted by severe water issues during the winter and summer seasons.

“Promises have been made by various governments, particularly after the severe flooding in November 2009, December 2015/January 2016 and February 2020, but such pledges of support for the Shannon Callows residents have yet to come to fruition,” Mr Broderick asserted.

The spokesperson noted the devastation which encompassed SOSO when a letter received from the OPW Minister on July 27 confirmed that €3m of the original €7m allocated towards the removal of pinch points had now been allegedly afforded towards the planning process to enable the commencement of such works.

“Many years ago, SOSO supplied the OPW with a detailed list of pinch points located between Athlone and Meelick which are in need of urgent removal but as of now, no planning permissions have been sought, no plan is in place and it appears that the €3m is being used to facilitate this project brief.

“The goalposts are being moved, despite what was agreed by government in December 2019 and as stated in the Minister’s letter of December 17, 2020,” the spokesperson added.

Noting that the build up of vegetation and silt, not always located in the river’s main navigation channel greatly contributes to the persistent flooding issues, the spokesperson stated that it was the role of Waterways Ireland to remove such impediments from the water to reduce relevant risk.

“Waterways Ireland can raise or lower the water levels for navigation at will and possess the necessary equipment to conduct the task of removing impediments to the navigation channels.

“In times of flooding the river fills up rapidly and spreads across the surrounding land. These are particularly noticeable in certain Callows areas as Shannon Grove, along the New Cut before Shaughnessy’s Lock and at Derryholmes.

“During his visit, the OPW Minister failed to even look at these pinch points at Shannon Grove and Shaughnessys. Such vegetation and silt must be removed to enable the river flow as much as possible between its banks and not spread rapidly across the surrounding lands of farmers and households during the summer season. The residents of the Callows understand that we will have flooding each winter.

“What we cannot accept is excessive flooding, caused by impediments across the entire river (but which are not in the navigation channel ), excessive flooding caused by lack of storage space in the lakes and excessive flooding caused by not opening and closing the sluices gates in time before severe weather events.

“In his capacity as OPW Minister, former Deputy, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran did have one large and one small pinch point removed.

“However, neither of these were located in the main channel of the river and the larger pinch point now has vegetation growing in it once again. This highlights the need for a continuous, planned maintenance programme.

“We are calling on the Minister to proceed with the work of removing pinch points in the Shannon Callows, between Athlone and Meelick, and use all the €7m to do so.

“We, the residents of the Shannon Callows, call on the Minister to implement what was agreed by the Government in December 2019 and to act on what was agreed by the Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group as stated in his letter of December 17 2020,” the spokesperson concluded.

 

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