Councillor Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran has questioned the role of the ESB in the disastrous floods that hit Athlone in 2009.
The councillor made his remarks after a presentation by Mr Tom Hayes, chief management engineer at the ESB. The issue of the levels of the Shannon has been a matter of grave concern for both residents and councillors in Athlone since 2009 flooding caused major damage to farmland and property, forcing people out of their homes.
Councillors recounted the events of that year in detail in order to communicate just how affected people were and why there is still grave concern among the public regarding the possibility of it occuring again. Councillor Moran challenged Mr Hayes on the role the ESB played in the circumstances that unfolded almost six years ago, saying: “In 2009 Athlone flooded. Why was the mistake made in 2009? Shannon had high levels of rainfall before 2009 and we did not get flooding. Can you not be honest and tell us that something happened in 2009 that caused you to change your operations?”
Tom Hayes responded to Cllr Moran by claiming the ESB continues to regulate Lough Allen, Lough Ree, and Lough Derg in the same manner it did when he started in his role eight years ago, and rejected the idea that his organisation was in some way responsible for the flooding in 2009. He did acknowledge that the lakes have been better maintained since 2012.
“Since 2012 the lakes have been regulated much better,” he said, “but I have been in my position for eight years and the operation the ESB applied then has not changed in that time. What has changed is that we have had a couple of dry summers. The ESB always plans for big floods. We have improved on flood forecasts and we are in regular contact with all stakeholders, that is one improvement that has been made. Mr Hayes did accept that maintenance had to be addressed, and expressed his hope that Seafram would do this.
Director of services, Barry Kehoe, said that the comprehensive study of the Shannon currently being conducted by Seafram will provide councillors and the ESB with the most detailed information they will ever have had access to. He urged patience in telling the councillors that the report will provide them with the information they need to tackle the issue of flood prevention head on.
“As members are aware, this is the most comprehensive study of the Shannon that has ever been done, and is due to be completed in 2016,” Mr Kehoe said. It is being carried out by consultants in accordance with EU regulations and Athlone has received special attention. The report is to see what is possible in terms of flood prevention.
“It needs to identify what can and can’t be done in terms of things like putting in weirs or widening the Shannon.... In six to 12 months we will have all that information. It is worth waiting for.”