Crucial works to prevent sewage overflow into the Shannon in times of heavy rainfall will not be completed until 2011 at the earliest, it has emerged.
The revelation at this week’s county council meeting will come as a blow to those who had hoped that the works would be complete in time for the 2010 European Triathlon Championships, to be hosted in Athlone next July.
In spite of pressure from Cllrs Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran and Gabrielle McFadden, the chamber was told “The reality is it will not be done by next year”.
However, council engineers moved to reassure anxious councillors that the later date would not jeopardise next year’s European championships and that temporary measures will be put in place for the weekend of the event.
“There is no reason why there should be a direct correlation between the event happening and these works. We can put temporary solutions in place over a weekend, which would not be practical on a day-to-day basis,” said county manager Dan McLoughlin.
Director of services Ray Kenny explained that tankers will be made available to ensure that storm overflow does not reach the river for the duration of the event, and that the council was anxious to start working on a permanent solutiuon.
“The town centre sewer system is a combined system, whereby rainwater in the town gulleys goes into the sewers, which overflow into the river dilutedly if there is a huge increase in rainfall. Storm overflow is problematic, and we are anxious to deal with it as quickly as possible,” he said.
The first stage of the Athlone Main Drainage works earmarked for completion, the Abbey Road to Golden Island tunnel, will solve the issue of storm overflow into the Shannon. This contract is ranked fourth in the county in terms of water services schemes priority, with a timeframe of 2011-2012 being proposed for the works. Of the €9.5 million projected cost, 30 per cent, or €2.8 million is to be provided by Westmeath County Council.
Speaking following Monday’s news, Cllr Gabrielle McFadden said she was disappointed that a permanent solution to discharges into the Shannon had once again been put on the long finger.
“I am very disappointed. Of course I understand where the manager is coming from and that the money is not there, but we can’t let things lie, we need to go back and renegotiate.”
However, she welcomed Mr McLoughlin’s assurance of temporary measures for the triathlon event. “It is very important that we showcase the town at next year’s event. It will be of huge benefit to tourism, so many people will be coming into the town and will bring back business. But we can’t allow the system to just work for the championships and then go back to how it was. I am concerned too that the scheme will be postponed beyond the proposed date.”
Meanwhile, Waterways Ireland triAthlone CEO Liam Heavin, said that to date storm overflow issues have not affected the running of triAthlone.
“We very much welcome anything that can be done to make the waterways cleaner for the use of the general public, however, by people insisting that there is a sewage problem and that this will in some way affect competitors of the triathlon is not true,” he said.
“Waterways Ireland triAthlone was made aware before the first triathlon in 2006 by Athlone Town Council of the overflow around the Athlone marina and we had received assurances at that time that this really only became an issue at periods of high rainfall such as winter time etc.
“At no time has there been any significant levels of pollutant in the water... In fact, one of the key markers for raw sewage known as Faecal coliform – has been zero both last year and in the previous years. As race organisers if we believed that there was even the slightest risk to our competitors and athletes from dirty or sewage-contaminated water we would never have them swimming in the Shannon.
“Undoubtedly the overflow at the Athlone marina is something that needs to be addressed but somehow to suggest that it poses or has posed a threat to Waterways Ireland triAthlone competitors is wholly false.”