Tuesday, 5 November 2013
Flood Relief Schemes Funding
I thank the Minister for coming into the House to take this Adjournment matter. It gives me no pleasure to raise this matter again and it is with a heavy heart and great regret that I do so. This is the third or fourth time I have raised this issue. One incident of flooding that affected the middle-eastern region, including Skibbereen, occurred when my party was in power. As the Minister of State present is probably aware, and as the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, will be aware, on 24 and 25 October Skibbereen was subject to flooding for the fifth time since 2009. It is an appalling vista that businesses, homeowners and elderly people have to be on nearly full-time alert when the flood waters rise. There was heavy rain from 6 p.m. on 24 October until 2 a.m on 25 October and Skibbereen was flooded from two sides. It was severely flooded from the Baltimore Road side and later when all the waters from the River Ilen estuary eventually hit Skibbereen it was flooded from the other side of town over by Marsh Road, Townsend Street etc. It would be remiss of me if I did not pay a huge tribute to all those in the services - the council, the local people, the Civil Defence, the gardaí and so on - who came out that night and did significant work to try to protect areas. Their input is sometimes forgotten. I am a ratepayer in Skibbereen and thankfully my place was not flooded. However, the vigilance of all those people and the text alerts that were sent out gave people a chance to get into businesses at two o'clock in the morning and shift boxes, perishable material, raise shelves and so on. Were it not for that, much more serious damage would have occurred in Skibbereen.
I have raised an issue previously that has also impacted on other towns in the country that have been affected by flooding. Historically, there have been incidents of flooding in Fermoy, Mallow, Bandon and Clonakilty. Because of the extensive flooding that occurred in 2009 in Skibbereen the owners of the properties affected, be they commercial properties, pubs, shops, small businesses or those unfortunate people who live in flats or houses in low lying areas, can no longer get insurance. I am not sure how that serious issue can be resolved but that is a matter for another day.
I would like to make a point, without being too leadránach on this issue, about what has happened since the scheme was initially announced in 2010. Since it was first announced that Skibbereen needed a flood relief scheme, that project has been delayed by a year for some reason. I am not suggesting that the Minister or the Department involved made a concerted effort to put this on the long finger. Each of the first three phases of the scheme has been affected by a delay of three or four months. We are trying to sort out phase 3 at the moment. At the time of the initial announcement, the intention was that the scheme would start by January 2014, which is a couple of months away. I now understand that the scheme is not likely to start until November 2014, which is 12 months away. Many people in Skibbereen are worried about what will happen the intervening period. Those concerns are shared by people in many towns, but I am referring specifically to Skibbereen because it was badly affected by flooding over the Hallowe'en weekend.
I hope the Minister of State will have some positive news for the people of Skibbereen. The proactive flood relief committee that is up and running in the town is doing excellent work. Those involved - I will not mention any names - are very engaged with the Department and the OPW. Like the others I have mentioned, whom I cannot forget, they are doing great work. The patience of the people of Skibbereen and the surrounding area is wearing thin. I hope the Minister of State will have good news for me.
I thank Senator O'Donovan for raising this issue. A flood relief scheme for the town of Skibbereen is being advanced by Cork County Council, as the contracting authority, in partnership with the OPW, which is providing the funding. The development and progression of the scheme is being overseen by a steering committee with representatives of the council, the OPW and RPS, the engineering consultants for the scheme. A public exhibition of the preferred scheme proposals took place in April of this year and lasted for four weeks. The main proposals of the scheme include the construction of new walls and embankments along the River Ilen and some of its tributaries in the town, new pumping stations, localised channel regrading and improvements to the local drainage system. Approximately 60 submissions were received from members of the public on the proposed scheme during the exhibition. Some of these submissions raised concerns over the levels of protection to be provided in certain areas, based on past experiences of local people. The OPW and Cork County Council recognise that local knowledge can make a valuable contribution to fine-tuning scheme proposals. Therefore, the consultants undertaking the study were asked to undertake further surveys and analysis to alleviate the concerns raised at the exhibition before a decision could be made regarding the next steps in taking the scheme forward. These surveys have now been completed and some changes have been made to the proposed scheme.
An exhibition report, which will deal in depth with all the issues raised by each submission, is expected to be completed soon. When that report has been received, responses will be issued by the OPW to all parties who made submissions. The OPW, in consultation with the council, will decide on the appropriateness of moving forward with the project as proposed. It is expected that the scheme will be moved to detailed design once the responses are issued. It is envisaged that the detailed design process will commence before the end of November. It is hoped to complete that process, and the process of procuring a civil works contractor, by the middle of next year. This would allow construction to commence in the third quarter of 2014. To mitigate delays on the scheme, the OPW and Cork County Council agreed earlier this year to bring forward the site investigation works in advance of the detailed design process. These works, which commenced in September, are due for completion in December. This will greatly aid the progression of the detailed design.
The OPW's consultants and staff from Cork County Council have been on the ground collecting data from the flood event which occurred on 24 and 25 October. When all the data has been collected, it will need to be analysed. While it is possible that the analysis will identify issues that will necessitate some modification of the proposals, early indications suggest that no significant changes to the scheme will be required. While it is unfortunate for the town to experience this latest flooding event, the data collected should bring some additional certainty regarding the robustness of the proposed scheme that will be undertaken in the coming years. I am pleased to confirm that the OPW has made provision for the cost of implementing a scheme in Skibbereen in its financial profiles for the 2014-16 period. I look forward to the works commencing towards the end of next year. I sympathise with what Senator O'Donovan has said about the hardship this has caused to the people of Skibbereen. As I come from Mallow and also represent Fermoy and Midleton, I am fully cognisant of the flooding issues local people have had to endure in the absence of a flood relief scheme. I assure the Senator that Skibbereen will benefit from the scheme as soon as work on it commences. Mallow has ceased to have instances of flooding, with the exception of the Park Road area, which does not have any residents. These schemes have been quite successful. I look forward to a successful resolution of this issue as well.
I will be brief. I thank the Minister of State. I accept that the council and the OPW are probably doing the best they can. I will continue to hold a watching brief in this regard, even if I will not be able to keep as close an eye on the matter as the Skibbereen flood committee and the others who are working to allay these difficulties. The Minister of State can relay that message to his colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, whom I know very well. I raised my concerns about this issue with Dr. Martin Mansergh when he was the Minister of State responsible. I will continue to raise them. While I do not want to do so ad nauseam, I will highlight these matters again before next summer so that we can ensure there is no more flooding at the end of next year. Of course, there is no guarantee that we will not have more flooding between now and 1 April 2014. I hope that will not happen for the sake of the people of Skibbereen, who deserve better. As I have said, I will be holding a watching brief. Like the Skibbereen eagle, I will keep my eye on the matter to ensure fair play is achieved. There must be no further delays with regard to this scheme.