A powerful lobby group has lashed out at the State over delays to flood prevention programmes in South Galway – which they say leave the entire area exposed once again to the threat of further damage this winter.
The South Galway Flood Relief Committee has expressed outrage over the fact that the scheme has been delayed by a further six months – and even a number of local TDs have been lambasted for their lack of action over the situation.
At the same time, the engineer in charge of the same South Galway Flood Relief Scheme has promised that the feasibility study, which is almost complete, will contain design options that best meet environmental challenges and cost-benefit criteria – two factors crucial to securing Government funding.
Galway County Council’s Enda Gallagher explained at this month’s Loughrea Municipal District meeting that the project is over a year behind its original timetable because the design team had ‘hit environmental snags’ and had struggled to devise computer models of the topology and underground channels.
Scientists in Trinity College Dublin were employed to work on the modelling until the end of November when they would produce their report.
Various design options are currently being assessed which take into account the Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and the Annex 1 limestone paving, both of which have to be protected in any scheme.
“They are making progress. I expect to see the results in the next number of weeks and hope to produce the results to yourselves and the public,” he stated.
Fine Gael’s Joe Byrne said there was a perception in the public that the feasibility study was yet another report instead of a definitive design solution, which would then have to be sent for funding approval to the Office of Public Works (OPW).
He said there had been very many minor works schemes completed in the last three years which would help alleviate flooding. But there was uncertainty in the community that this major project would ever go ahead.
“I don’t agree with that, but I think there needs to be a public consultation process as soon as the feasibility [report] is done and not for the OPW to sit on it for months and months.”
Party colleague, Cllr PJ Murphy, asked if ground would be moved in 2020 on the scheme.
“Talk of yet another delay in the progression of the South Galway Flood Relief Programme is a source of great concern and frustration to many local people,” he said this week.
“I am told that a more accurate picture of the timelines involved will become clear after the completion of the final feasibility report in the first quarter of 2020,” Cllr Murphy added.
Mr Gallagher said he was unable to give a clear timetable but all would become clearer after the feasibility study was published which would contain “a robust solution that will tick all the boxes”.
From the start he had stated that the scheme had to be “cost beneficial” and complied with the environmental legislation.
The cost benefit analysis had been completed on a separate scheme at Rinrush, where residents in 13 houses had previously been stranded for 58 days. Workers would get in early next year to clear vegetation from the area and build a 1km road to ensure access over the summer.
Chair of the South Galway Flood Relief Committee David Murray recently pointed out that following heavy rain in August and September when over two times the average rainfall was recorded turloughs across the region are full.
“With the reduction in the turlough buffer capacity, we now have a very high potential for flooding this upcoming winter,” he warned on the committee blog.
He said the committee had been informed that a further delay of up to six months was likely in order to complete the feasibility study.
“Credibility is rapidly diminishing on this project – If we remember – ‘diggers on the ground in 2020’ was the mantra at the start of this scheme and now it’s looking more likely that the only thing delivered in 2020 will be yet another report. This is disastrous for South Galway which will more than likely suffer yet another flooding crisis this winter.”
Former Councillor Bridie Willers complained that with the project already a year behind schedule, it appeared that the consultants could keep extending it.
“No explanation as to why the project is delayed once more. To be honest I am convinced they simply do not have the expertise to do the job they agreed to do because, if they did, a solution would have been forthcoming before now,” she wrote on the blog.
“The frustrating part is we can do absolutely nothing about it only sit and wait for our homes, our farms, our roads to be flooded and our community to be isolated again.”
In other schemes across the region, Mr Gallagher said the Dunkellin Bridge should be open to traffic in the first week of November at the latest – and the end of October if the contractors hit no snags.
An application to fund individual flood barriers on homes previously flooded on Kinvara quay had been submitted to the OPW, which had replied asking for substantial details on each building.
Surveys would have to be carried out on 40 homes and a decision made to protect against a one in 1,000-year flood or a one in 200-year flood.
Cllr Byrne said there were 20 homes not 40 that needed the flood gates and four of those had installed them at their own expense after becoming frustrated at how long it was taking for the OPW to fulfil their promise to homeowners.
Cllr PJ Murphy said he raised the matter at a recent meeting of Loughrea Municipal Council only to be told that there would be no diggers on the ground this winter.
“I very much welcome the completion of all pipe laying and drainage works in the Kiltiernan Flood relief scheme.
“This scheme is now fully functional and all that remains to be completed is some of the ground levelling and reseeding works as well as the restoration of walls and fences,” he said.
Separately, Galway County Council are advancing proposals with the Office of Public Works to resolve the access problems caused in recent years by high flood levels at Rinrush, Gort.
These proposals involve the improvement of access routes only and do not include any flood alleviation measures. The plans for this project are at an advanced stage and it is hoped that these works can begin as soon as early 2020.
Anger within GAA community over rejection of €5m plan
There is widespread anger within the GAA communities of Oranmore and Maree this week after planning permission received for the €5 million Renville Sports Project – which includes four playing pitches and a public playground, among other facilities on their 34-acre site – was rescinded by An Bord Pleanála.
The Planning Appeals Board reversed Galway County Council’s decision to greenlight the project ‘in the absence of any specific measures confirmed’ in relation to the junction on the Maree Road leading to the proposed development at Rinville West.
An Bord Pleanála maintains that if the proposed development was to go ahead, this junction ‘would endanger public safety by reason of traffic hazard, due to the additional traffic turning movement which the proposed development would generate’.
It’s understood An Bord Pleanála had sought clarification in relation to this from Galway County Council and that ‘in the absence of any specific measures confirmed as part of the proposed development to address these deficiencies within the existing junction’, it was refusing permission.
Given the scope of the proposed multi-million euro centre of excellence, those associated with the Renville Sports and Community Grounds project are furious that Galway County Council did not address this issue in the initial planning stage – particularly as they originally gave the project the go-ahead.
“The land where they could widen that (junction) entrance to take the right turn, they actually own all that land down the right hand side,” fumed Oranmore/Maree Club Chairman Gerry Rabbitt this week.
“You could put a roundabout in there! They have dropped the ball on this one and they have made a mess of it. We have spent nearly €90,000 on planning and this is just unbelievable.”
The proposed development was to provide three sand-based grass playing pitches along with an all-weather synthetic playing pitch, three warm-up and training areas, floodlighting and a covered terrace for one of the playing pitches, a hurling wall, a looped amenity walkway, 248 carpark and eight coach spaces and a public playground.
Galway County Council granted planning permission last July to Renville Sports Project Committee on behalf of Oranmore Maree GAA Club, subject to 15 conditions.
However, local residents appealed the proposed development under a number of headings.
One of those concerns raised focused on the existing road infrastructure, which residents maintained was unsuitable to take the traffic a development of this magnitude would generate.
It was on this point – restricted sightlines and an inappropriate speed limit at that location – that An Bord Pleanála upheld the residents’ objection.
The decision is a big blow to the Renville project, which operates under the slogan ‘Supporting Renville, Our Clubs, Our Community, Our Future’, and the committee is currently considering its next step.
While a Judicial Review can be sought in the High Court within eight weeks of the planning authority’s decision, the Renville Project Management Committee can only question the validity of An Bord Pleanála’s decision and cite, on this ground only, why the decision is ‘invalid or ought to be quashed’.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Management Committee considered the issues raised as ‘addressable’ and said they will be ‘doing everything possible to overcome this setback to the project’.
Mr Rabbitt said all concerned remained deeply committed “to bringing this vital project to fruition”.
Whether the Renville Project Management Committee explore the option of a Judicial Review or not, it looks as if the project may have to go through another extensive planning process once more.
“It’s terrible,” stated Mr Rabbitt. “That could be two years down the road. We have €600,000 (raised through fundraisers and donations) already and this is just a massive disappointment for us all.
Ballinasloe Horse Fair officially cancelled for this year
One of the oldest horse fairs in the country has been officially cancelled this year on health and safety grounds – with the organising committee planning to meet at the end of the year to make plans for 2021.
The Ballinasloe Fair and Festival Committee decided to cancel this year’s event – traditionally held in October – because of the continuing uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak.
The October Fair attracts around 80,000 visitors for the week-long festival – including a major influx from England – providing a huge economic boost for the town, and the pubs and restaurants in particular.
The co-ordinating committee said that the decision to cancel the Fair was taken with regret but that the public’s safety was paramount – because the crowds that throng the Fairgreen would be very difficult to implement social distancing
“The Committee made the decision in the interests of public health and safety and has agreed to meet in December 2020 to prepare for the return of the Ballinasloe Fair and Festival in 2021 and make advanced plans to celebrate the 300th anniversary in 2022,” said the committee in a statement.
“The Co-ordinating Committee would like to thank the local community, sponsors, and all associations involved for their ongoing commitment and support.
“We look forward to welcoming all participants and visitors to Ballinasloe Fair and Festival in 2021,” they added.
The recent meeting of Ballinasloe Municipal Council saw some elected members urge a ‘wait and see’ approach, given that the event takes place in October and that the Covid situation could change considerably in the meantime.
But that suggestion divided members of Ballinasloe Municipal Council with the majority believing that the public’s safety should be the primary consideration and that the event should be scrapped for this year.
The meeting was also told that the HSE’s advice was that the Horse Fair should not go ahead but that all ‘stakeholders’ would be contacted in advance of any decision being taken.
The annual Ballinasloe Horse Fair dates back to the 18th century and there were pleas from some councillors that it be retained on restricted basis but this suggestion was largely rejected by other elected members.
Atlantic Masters swimmers fund radios for lifeboat crews
A group of Galway swimmers – forced to cancel their annual fundraiser for the lifeboats – decided instead to pool their club subs to buy new radios for the service.
And within 24 hours of taking delivery of the four new VHF radios, Galway Lifeboat members used them on three separate call-outs – to save lives on the water.
The Atlantic Masters’ Lifeboat Swim took place for the first time last year, raising over €7,500 in funds for local sea-based organisations.
But Covid-19 restrictions forced the club to postpone the 2020 Atlantic Lifeboat Swim on June 12 – and at the same time club members’ training sessions were unfortunately cancelled as well.
But when offered refunds, members decided to pool their refunds and purchase four VHF Radios for the RNLI – in the hope that this would go some way to fill the gap in funding due to the cancellation of the Atlantic Lifeboat Swim.
Galway Lifeboat Operations Manager Mike Swan expressed his thanks on behalf of the Galway Lifeboat and RNLI.
“Atlantic Masters club members are as passionate about water safety as they are about swimming and that can be seen by this generous donation of VHF radios,” he said.
“Within 24 hours of receiving the radios they were in use on three separate shouts, enabling crew members to respond faster and with greater efficiency. They truly will save lives,” he added
Last year’s event saw over 120 swimmers take on the 2km swim in Renville.
And as restrictions are being lifted and guidelines being created for hosting outdoor sporting events, Atlantic Masters Club have not given up hope of being able to run a version of the Atlantic Lifeboat Swim at some point in the coming months.
Atlantic Masters chairperson Helen Colfer acknowledged that the health and safety of swimmers and local communities was their number one priority – but as the rules changed, they would look at their options.
“We are liaising with all relevant governing bodies to identify what we need to do to hold an event, be it virtual or scaled down, that could support the RNLI,” she said.
“As a swimming community, we cannot stress enough the gratitude we have for the work the RNLI do. Our club members are delighted to be able to help them in any way we can.”
For more information about Galway Lifeboat or to donate, click HERE