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Anger as storm works delayed

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Anger as storm works delayed


€1.7 million storm defences on hold for 15 months

Edwin McGreal

NEWS that otters will further delay storm defence works at Carrowholly, Westport, has been met with outrage by local councillors.
It was revealed at a council meeting yesterday (Monday) evening that the works at Carrowholly could be further delayed by up to five months by a romp of otters.
The presence of otters in a canal where works are due to be carried out was one of the reasons given for a delay in the commencement of works, which will now not begin until August 2016 at the earliest. 
Yesterday’s meeting of the West Mayo Municipal District of Mayo County Council heard details of a flood study carried out in Carrowholly, after a storm and high tides caused extensive damage to homes, roads, bridges and lands just before and after New Year’s Day 2014. A coastal community, Carrowholly was one of the worst hit areas of Mayo in the storms of January last year, with residents stranded by submerged roads, and a main access bridge being swept away. One local family had to be rescued from their flooded home by boat as massive tidal swells engulfed their property.
The report was carried out by Cork-based engineering consultancy company Mott MacDonald and one of their engineers, Barry O’Connor, gave a presentation to the meeting in Keel, Achill. Councillors were not impressed with what they heard.“It seems birds, otters and seals are much more protected than families of people in Carrowholly,” said Cllr Michael Holmes (Ind).
“It is a crazy situation when a village can be allowed to flood so that otters can swim in peace,” said Cllr Tereasa McGuire (FG).

Cost effective
Mr O’Connor said the ‘most cost effective solution’ was to raise the height of the banks of the canal in Carrowholly along which much of the tidal surge flowed. The canal bank would be raised along a distance of 274 metres and an embankment would also be installed at the bridge in Carrowholly which was swept away by the storm.
The raising of the banks is the most expensive part of the proposals and would cost €767,500. However,  before any construction begins, it could be delayed significantly after the discovery of the presence of otters in the canal.
Mr O’Connor said that the general area was a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and works were restricted by birds, seals and, particularly, otters. He said an otter holt (den) was discovered in the canal and, once vacated by the otters, this would have to be removed and an artificial one built nearby.
However he said the holt could take five months to become vacant if otter pups were there.
The referring of planning for the works to An Bord Pleánala would take up to six months, he said, while site investigations, detailed design and negotiations with landowners are expected to take a total of six months.
Because of the wildlife presence there, Mr O’Connor said works could only be carried out from August to February and due to the various time delays outlined, the opening for this winter has been missed. The earliest possible start date is August 2016.
The total cost of the works would be just over €1 million and the total cost of the entire project by its conclusion would be €1.7 million.

‘Lost faith’
Cllr Christy Hyland said locals in Carrowholly had ‘lost faith in the whole system’ and took issue with the news that the road to Rosmindle would not be raised, saying this would continue to cut off families in that area. However, Mr O’Connor said the works along the canal should alleviate any need for the raising of the road to Rosmindle.
Cllr Brendan Mulroy said it would be ‘very difficult to sell’ to people that even after the works are finished that the road at Rusheen is still liable to flood.
Cllr Mulroy said the latest delays were ‘a disaster’ for the people of Carrowholly who had been ‘through hell and back’, saying that local government reforms spoke of ‘putting people first’ but ‘as far as I can see this is putting wildlife first’.
“If I was living in Carrowholly I’d be very disappointed with the public representation I’ve got,” he said. He added that Mayo County Council had not performed well on this issue.
However, Director of Services for Mayo County Council, Martin Keating, took issue with that comment and said it was ‘very unfair’ to blame Mayo County Council, who he said ‘have done everything that could be done’. He argued they had to follow regulations all the way and ‘if we didn’t do that, it’s then we’d be letting down the people of Carrowholly’.
Cllr Michael Holmes called it an ‘absolute disgrace’ and stated his belief that it ‘is the EU Habitats Directive’ which is the problem. He particularly criticised Ireland’s willingness to designate so much of its land as SACs.
Cllr Rose Conway-Walsh (SF) said it was ‘a crazy situation’ and asked for interim measures while Cllr Gerry Coyle (FG) said ‘it didn’t take as long to get people out of Gorse Hill’ as it will take to move the otters in Carrowholly, a reference to the recent legal battle in Dublin between the O’Donnell family and Bank of Ireland.