Dredging the River Shannon may have provided “some relief” but would not have prevented the flooding event Athlone experienced at the end of last year, according to John Martyn, head of the Office of Public Works Flood Risk Assessment and Management Section.
Mr Martyn visited Westmeath County Council on Monday of this week to present details of the CFRAM Report and to provide answers to some of the concerns of the councillors in attendance.
Addressing Mr Martyn, Fine Gael councillor John Dolan said many local people feel as though “targeted dredging is the way forward”. He said that the section of the report that listed dredging as viable from an economic and engineering, but not an environmental, point of view sent out the message that the lives of fish are being given priority before those of human beings.
Cllr Dolan told Mr Martyn that “flooding in rural Ireland is not a viable option either”. He said targeted dredging along eight pinch points of the river “would solve a lot of the problem”. He pointed out that dredging takes place in other European countries and questioned why the policy appears to be different in Ireland.
He asked Mr Martin whether a grant scheme might be made available for individual property protection, suggesting that a figure of €10,000-€20,000 would go a long way towards solving the problem.
Fianna Fáil councillor Frankie Keena said there was a great fear that the water diverted by the proposed flood defences will spill over downstream, and supported the call for targeted dredging on the river.
Sinn Féin’s Paul Hogan questioned why a number of properties in the Athlone area have received no allocation for flood protection. He asked Mr Martyn if any consideration has been given to a national State insurance scheme for people currently unable to get insurance.
Mr Martyn told councillors that while dredging would have provided some relief during the last flooding crisis it would not have prevented it, despite admitting that it could have lowered the water level by up to half a metre. He acknowledged that dredging does take place in parts of Europe, but that European legislation dictates that if there are other viable alternatives they must be exercised first.
He told the chamber that there are ongoing discussions regarding the levels of the river in terms of both summer and winter periods.
Mr Martyn added that the issue of providing grants for individual property protection is something that is still being looked at. He noted that a grant scheme of the kind Cllr Dolan suggested is currently being piloted in Crossmolina, but no definitive data is available at present.
He said the issue of a State insurance scheme is something outside of his remit, but added that once flood protection measures are in place affected homes should find it easier to get insurance.
The deadline for the public consultation process regarding the CFRAM Report is tomorrow (Friday ), September 23. Written submissions from local authorities must be submitted by October 17.