Mayo County Council have refuted suggestions that there is a problem with the new bridge in Achill after claims the local population were losing confidence in it after it failed to close last September.
The new €5 million Michael Davitt swing-bridge connecting Achill Island to the mainland has been dogged with problems since it was first constructed in 2008 and on two occasions there were long delays in closing it after it was opened.
Last September, traffic leaving and entering the island were delayed for over an hour after the bridge failed to close and earlier this month strong winds were given as a reason for not opening it after fishermen requested to go through.
Achill councillor Micheál McNamara said there were a lot of questions locally regarding the bridge and he asked if Council staff were also losing confidence in it after they did not open it for the fishermen.
“People are starting to lose confidence in the bridge and when people heard it was swinging on Friday, a lot of people who had appointments made efforts to get off the island before it swung. Are the council staff also losing confidence?” he asked at last week’s meeting of the Belmullet Electoral Area Committee.
Cllr McNamara continued, “The fishermen were there for two days waiting to get through when it should only take 20 minutes. It failed to close in September for whatever reason. This is a huge project and people expect it to work properly and are very annoyed at what happened. They is what people are thinking on the ground and we need to restore confidence by swinging it regularly,” he said.
Director of Services, Martin Keating explained all the systems on the bridge were reviewed and there were no problems with the hydraulics or software in the bridge. Council Engineer Steve Verity added there wasn’t a confidence issue in not opening the bridge and explained that the bridge was opened on November 22 and there was no problems.
Mr Verity explained that if the wind speed is above 7.5 metres per second they cannot open the bridge because it might lose tracking. Mr Keating added there were safety issues which they had to take into account on windy days.
Independent councillor Michael Holmes said he was inundated with calls from fishermen because the bridge would not open because of the wind and felt it defied the purpose of the bridge if it could not be opened for the lifeboat.
He concurred with Cllr McNamara that confidence was ‘going fairly rapidly’ and there was a lot of disappointment because it was a big investment. Cllr Gerry Coyle asked who was responsible for the bridge while Cllr Rose Conway-Walsh asked if Mayo County Council were 100 per cent happy with it and if the bridge was operating according to the design specifications.
Mr Keating said they needed to look at the bridge in perspective and that it was disappointing and regrettable when it happened but it only failed to close on one occasion. He said it opened satisfactorily in November and while they would like to open it regularly to build confidence in it, they had to balance that with the costs involved in opening it.
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