The clean-up operation following the flooding of several hundred homes in Athlone and the surrounding area will cost hundreds of thousands of euros and will be “difficult, traumatic, messy and will take some time”, according to county manager Dan McLoughlin.
However, the manager, who held discussions with Taoiseach Brian Cowen when he visited Athlone last week, says it will be some time before the total financial cost of the clean-up, and the source of the funds to execute it, will be known.
“The overall cost impact in the Athlone area to the State is likely to run into several hundred thousand euros, however it is administered, whether it is through the local authority, Department of Transport, or other bodies. If we take into account the cost of fixing disintegrating roads, temporary re-homing, the clean-up, and humanitarian aid, we are looking at significant cost,” said Mr McLoughlin.
The county manager was responding to questions from Athlone-based councillors, led by Cllr Mark Cooney, at this week’s meeting of Westmeath County Council.
“I would like to ask the manager what financial relief will be available, and what will be the impact on the council’s finances in the current year and into 2010?” asked Cllr Cooney.
While admitting it was not possible at this stage to put a final figure on the overall cost of the clean-up, Mr McLoughlin said the operation would fall under three categories: immediate remedies including sandbags, pumps, etc, a cost which would be largely incurred by the end of this week; housing for those who needed to be re-homed in the short and long-term; and the long-term clean-up operation.
“A national fund of €10 million has been identified, and the indications are that this is under review and may be more. We are awaiting a decision on the final amount and the manner in which it will be administered and broken down, and how people can apply.
“We need to be clear that this will be difficult, traumatic, and messy, and will take some time. We are committed to dealing how we can with the clean-up and will provide large industrial skips, cleaning equipment etc. After all this is done there will be a high level of analysis.”
Mr McLoughlin also confirmed that a detailed record is being compiled of the areas affected by flooding.
“Locally we are keeping a clear record from the air and on the ground of the areas affected. We will do our own analysis and this will feed into the national analysis. Athlone Town Council are collating a database of houses, and charities such as the St Vincent de Paul will use this service to ensure they target those most affected.”
In response to a suggestion from Cllr Frankie Keena that the council stockpile sandbags during the summer months which could be used during times of high flood alert, Mr McLoughlin said that it would not be practical to stockpile sandbags as the flooding in Athlone, while a crisis, was not designated a ‘major emergency’, and that there is a framework in place for crisis management.
“Twenty thousand sandbags were moved out over the last few weeks, and we always keep a small stockpile,” he added.