Prioritise people in flood management, says councillor

An Athlone councillor is calling for common sense in how the OPW will manage flooding around the town, saying that human beings, not wildlife and trees, must be central to any solutions.

Cllr John Dolan was speaking at Westmeath County Council’s May meeting after a presentation by the OPW and an engineering company who will map thousands of kilometres of waterways, and produce 10,000 flood maps to quantify flood risk in Westmeath.

But Cllr Dolan was unhappy with news that with the ESB responsible for the Shannon, and EU Wildlife regulation creating enormous difficulties for OPW projects, there is no clarity about when real remedial works will take place.

But the OPW, which is heading up the EU-led CFRAM flood risk mapping programme (at a cost of €30m nationally ) says having flood risk maps and models will be a huge benefit.

Cllr Dolan told the OPW’s Martin O’Gorman that he lives in an area badly affected by flooding of agricultural land and housing.

He said it’s endgame time for residents, and practical remedial solutions are needed.

He said he was frustrated that while works were going on at Meelick, a ranger from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS ) stood by taking pictures of trees being cut.

“The human being has to be central,” he said, and was unimpressed to hear that the OPW succeeded in getting only one licence for works last year, because of very restrictive EU legislation which regulates the NPWS.

Martin O’Gorman told the councillor that the OPW now finds it difficult to do the kind of operational work they could do in the past.

Cllr Dolan also argued against any planned flood barriers.

“Flood defences are not the answer – they will not stop water finding its own level,” he said, adding that remedial solutions are needed, and water will simply go around flood walls.

Athlone, along with Mullingar and Kilbeggan, is one of three areas for further assessment (AFAs ) in Westmeath where the OPW has particular concerns.

Athlone’s Cllr Mark Cooney said he was glad to hear the Aal will be included in the regional plan.

He said the river, which flows through Willow Park and Golden Island, flooded badly around 10 years ago.

Speaking after the meeting he said he described the CFRAM project as “a work in progress” and said that a timescale of 2015 was given after the serious flooding in Athlone in 2009.

“At the moment nobody can put it up to Government as to what should be done because the answer is always going to be that we have to await the result of the study,” he said.

“When it’s finished, at least we’ll have some idea,” he concluded.

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