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No grit for rural communities


SLIP SLIDING AWAY Black ice on local roads, like this one on the outskirts of Westport, gave motorists difficult conditions to handle all weekend.  Pic: Conor McKeown

Council officials say resources not there for treating more local roads

Anton McNulty

With freezing temperatures set to continue for the remainder of the week, rural communities are facing hazardous driving conditions, and the lack of council resources for gritting is causing anxiety.
A Status Yellow weather warning for low temperatures and ice until next Sunday has been issued by Met Éireann, with warnings of dangerous driving conditions due to severe frost, icy surfaces and freezing fog.
Under Mayo County Council’s Winter Service Plan just 3 percent of the 5,500km of local roads are gritted, while 82 percent of regional roads are gritted. All of the county’s national and secondary routes are gritted.
The issue was raised at yesterday’s meeting of Mayo County Council by a number of councillors, who said it was unfair that a number of roads in rural communities were not being gritted.
Achill councillor Paul McNamara was among the those who called for the council to reconsider its policy.

‘The best we can’
In response, Director of Services Tom Gilligan explained that the local authority does not have the resources to grit all the roads they’d like to do.
“We grit 1,100km of roads because of the finite resources we have. It takes approximately four hours to salt a route from start to finish, and that is the reality. The Winter Service Plan is there, and the reality is we don’t have the resources and the stock to be giving it [grit] out to every single locality and estate. We have to deal with the vast network we have, and we are doing the best we can. There is nothing much more we can do, it is not fair but that is life,” he said.
Over the weekend temperatures reached a low of -5.5°C in Claremorris on Sunday night with the freezing conditions causing a number of road incidents, with vehicles sliding off roads, particularly local roads.
A number of councillors told the meeting said their phones have been inundated with calls over the weekend from people unable to leave their homes due to ungritted road.
“The local roads are not getting any salt on them, and we are going to have these conditions for the rest of the week,” said Cllr McNamara.
“I think it is very unfair for the people travelling out of these areas early in the morning, particularly in Achill and Ballycroy and around Blacksod, who have to travel over an hour to Westport or Castlebar. This is unfair, and I ask the Chief Executive to please take a look at this and try to get some salt on our local roads,” he told the meeting.

‘No Plan B’
Foxford-based councillor Neil Cruise suggested that private contractors be utilised in the future to grit local roads, while Cllr Blackie Gavin said that many communities would do their own roads.
“The county council have no Plan B for the local communities. There are a lot of communities and resident associations out there who, if they had grit boxes put in place where grit is delivered, would spread it.”
Cllr Gavin who also commented that the staff of Mayo University Hospital is ‘flat out’ dealing with people suffering from injuries caused by the treacherous weather.
Ballina-based councillor John O’Hara also supported calls for local communities to be supplied with grit, saying that people in these communities ‘will scatter it themselves’.
Independent Westport-based councillor Christy Hyland added that he knew of many communities that were happy to grit local roads using their own tractors and shakers but were  told they are not insured.
“It is very unfair for people who pay their property tax to have them isolated. There are groups within those areas who are resilient people and will rally to the cause but they are being told they are not insured.
“I would like clarification on the insurance issue, with local communities lining up and ready to roll and told they cannot go. This has to be sorted,” he said.

Climate change
Mr Gilligan reiterated his point that the 6,600km road network in Mayo is so vast it is impossible to provide extra resources to communities. He also acknowledged that there is an issue with insurance which prevents private operators from spreading the grit.
Cllr McNamara refused to accept that nothing more could be done for communities along local roads, however.
“It is very unfair to the people living on local roads that they are not being treated the same as people living along the regional roads and the national roads. With climate change, Mayo County Council needs to start thinking about rural areas,” he said.

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