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.
County Council ‘driving homebuyers out of the market’
The price that Galway County Council has agreed to pay for homes in Gort will make property unaffordable for young couples, it was claimed last week.
Councillor Joe Byrne (FG) told last week’s Loughrea Municipal District meeting that the Council had been given approval to purchase 31 units on the Tubber Road in Gort for €7.8 million.
“That averages €252,000 for homes in a turn-key condition – I find that to be an elevated price to be paying for two and three-bedroom houses. If Galway County Council are paying what I consider an inflated price, it might drive up prices for young couple in Gort,” he remarked.
Fianna Fáil’s Ivan Canning concurred that the local authority was paying “over the odds for houses” while there were so many empty Council houses dotted around County Galway, some of which the Council did not appear to know about.
“We have an awful lot of empty stock. I know of people who leave houses and it’s three years before the Council puts someone back in at an extortionate cost to bring them back because they’re empty so long.”
He asked how much the Council paid out for “slip and trips” on public footpaths, speculating that it was a lot more than would be spent on upgrading footpaths, which were “in a state” in Portumna.
He accused Council staff of “wasting huge amounts of money each year”.
Director of Services for Infrastructure and Operations, Jim Cullen, said if people fell and sued, the Council would defend the court cases and there was often contributory negligence involved. The incidents were covered by the Council’s liability insurance.
“I can’t accept the Council is wasting a lot of money. In order for the Council to get approval to buy houses, we have to go through a lot of hoops. The Department doesn’t give out money easily,” he retorted.
He said some local authority properties were handed back in poor condition, others were offered to tenants and rejected while yet more were handed back to the Council in areas where there was not a housing need.
Cllr Canning said he had been told the Council owned three houses on one road and when he started investigating further, he discovered they in fact owned eight houses – many of them empty.
Planning was recently granted to build 24 homes in the Oranhill Estate in Oranmore in an area earmarked for a community facility. Councillor Martina Kinane asked if the Council had reached an agreement to purchase these homes.
She understood that the Council had received €1.5m from development contributions for the estate.
“There is a housing need . . . but I don’t want the community space to be lost.”
Mr Cullen said he would not comment on whether the Council was in negotiation over properties.
Man to be sentenced for sexual assault on teen girl
A 25-year-old man was convicted by a jury last week of sexually assaulting an underage girl in a room over a pub while celebrating his 21st birthday four years ago.
Kevin Corcoran, 68 The Glade, Athenry, had denied a charge of sexually assaulting the then 16-year-old girl by digitally penetrating her, during his 21st birthday celebrations which took place in a pub in East Galway on November 22, 2015.
A jury of four women and eight men took just two hours and 45 minutes to reach a majority verdict of 10-2, finding him guilty of the offence following a three-day trial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court last week.
The name of the pub or town where it is situated cannot be published in order to protect the identity of the victim.
The court heard she had been drinking and socialising with male friends in the pub when her group encountered Corcoran and a group of his friends who were celebrating his 21st birthday.
His group were renting two rooms upstairs for the night and she and some of her friends joined the party upstairs in the early hours.
The said girl had left the bar area around 4am after being asked to go home by a barman. She told jurors she met Corcoran outside on the street while on her way home. He invited her back into the party and she agreed to go back with him.
Once upstairs again, she said he pushed her down on a bed in one of the rooms while his and her friends were partying in a room across the hall, and sexually assaulted her.
She said he first took her phone off her before the assault took place.
He threw her phone back to her afterwards and she left the premises distraught and went home.
She told her mother shortly afterwards. Her mother went to work that day but later that night took her daughter to the Garda Station and from there to the sexual assault unit in Galway.
Dr Lorna Flanagan from the Forensic Science Laboratory gave evidence that there was insufficient DNA evidence found on the girl’s jeans and underwear to link Corcoran to the allegation of digital penetration.
She noted the button had been ripped off the girl’s jeans and the zip broken, which could suggest the jeans had been pulled off her with force.
Forensic medical examiner, Dr Joanne Freeman, gave evidence she medically examined the girl at the sexual assault unit and concluded there were injuries consistent with the allegation of digital penetration.
Corcoran declined to give evidence at the trial.
He will be sentenced on December 11 next.
Council considers charging for train station carpark
Pay parking could be coming down the track for spaces at Oranmore train station – with County Council officials warning that the introduction of a charge may be the only way to fund additional spaces at the frequently over-subscribed car park.
A meeting of Athenry Oranmore Municipal District was told that bylaws for the introduction of pay and display at the council-owned facility were currently being drafted – and councillors would have to make a decision about its future operation in the not-too-distant future.
Cllr James Charity (Ind) said it would be very difficult for any councillor to support such a move, given that they were also trying to encourage people to leave their cars behind.
“It will be a significant difficulty for any member to vote for pay parking when we’re trying to encourage people to use public transport,” he said.
Cllr Liam Carroll (FG) said that the extension of the car park in Oranmore needed to be a priority as people’s safety was being put at risk due to disorganised nature of parking when the facility fills up.
“This morning, I left Oranmore at about 8.50am and the car park was chock-a-block – they were parked all the way out to the Coast Road.
“There are 140 spaces there and at the moment, I would estimate that there does be 250 cars there, parked all the way in on a cycle lane and on a bus lane. Oranmore Station is a victim of its own success,” he said.
These cars were mostly commuters going in and out of Galway City and this was achieving a significant reduction in the volume of cars on the road, he continued.
“If you’re talking 250 cars a day, that’s around 55,000 per annum being taken out of the city. Most of those cars aren’t there until after 8am so it’s not people going to Limerick or Dublin – it’s people using Oranmore as a commuter station.
“Imagine the impact that’s having on the reduction of the carbon footprint in the city; and the impact on health and wellbeing, when people are not getting stuck in traffic when they hit the roundabout at Galway Clinic every day,” said Cllr Carroll.
Cllr Shelly Herterich Quinn (FF) said that the fact that a charge existed for parking at the train station in Athenry was further exacerbating the problem – as people were driving from the town to Oranmore Station to get the train there and avoid having to pay to park.
“That’s adding to the load at the station in Oranmore. In Athenry, there are hundreds of spaces, but people just don’t want to pay,” she said, adding that Iarnród Éireann should consider offering its parking spaces for free in Athenry.
Cllr Gabe Cronnelly (Ind) said that Oranmore and Attymon should be better utilised by Iarnród Éireann as commuter stations and put down a motion to seek that the number of times the train stopped there was increased – seconded by Cllr Carroll, the motion was adopted by area councillors.
Senior Executive Engineer Damien Mitchell said that a framework document currently under development for the Garraun area where Oranmore Station is situated included provision for a loop that would enable frequent commuter trains to run in and out of Galway City.
“The reality for parking is, how do we pay to add additional spaces,” said Mr Mitchell.
“What we’ve done in the past is borrowed it and put in pay parking to pay it back.
“I know the problem is there, but the reality is I have four or five towns in the county looking for additional parking spaces and the only way to facilitate that is to pay for it,” he stressed.