NO LOCAL GRITTING Black ice on local roads, like this one on the outskirts of Westport, gave motorists difficult conditions to handle during the mid-December freeze. Pic: Conor McKeown
Communities will be left with stockpiles of grit if there is an extended period of freezing weather in the future, the Head of Roads with Mayo County Council has confirmed.
There has been repeated calls recently for a review of Mayo County Council’s Winter Service Plan after a large number of local roads were left unpassable after a prolonged cold snap before Christmas.
Under the current plan, all the national primary and secondary routes are salted while 82 percent of regional roads and just 3 percent of local roads are salted when temperatures reach freezing point.
There was anger among the public when many local roads were left untreated during the recent cold snap, which lasted for up to 12 days, before the thaw came.
Members of the Roads Strategic Policy Committee last week praised the work of the council during this period but felt more could have been done to support communities living along local roads which were untreated.
Head of Roads Paul Dolan told the meeting that there is a provision in place in the Winter Service Plan to stockpile grit and this is something they will have to take on board into the future.
“After what happened we can write to the municipal districts to identify locations where these stockpiles can be and in the next Winter Service Plan we can formally have those locations mentioned in the plan.
“If we get a period of extended winter weather we can leave stockpiles of grit at those locations. There is provision there and maybe at the start of the week there was a view there was no need to put stockpiles out there. But we should have references to them in the Winter Service Plan and we will do that moving forward.
Exceptional weather event
“Ninety-nine percent of the time the plan is able to deal with the winter scenario we have. If it is an exceptional weather event we struggle, with but no local authority in any European state deals with the weather conditions we experienced last Saturday morning,” he said.
The meeting heard that on the night of Friday, December 16, rain washed away much of the salt and grit which had been spread on the road and many roads were left ‘like glass’ after the water froze over.
Council drivers were back out again at 5am on Saturday, December 17 but many could not complete their route because the roads were so dangerous. The council drivers were praised by the members for the commitment they showed and for putting their lives in danger to ensure roads were passable during the freezing weather.
“I must compliment the outdoor workers who did Trojan work,” said Cllr John O’Malley. “They were out at five in the morning and Saturday morning they had to call them in because it was too dangerous. They have families too and it was right they were taken in. It was unprecedented because they went out and it rained and it froze over so much a cat could not walk on it. The best that could be done was done,” he said.
Work with communities
Fine Gael councillor Cyril Burke said that the council needed to work with communities to ensure that local roads are passable for people to get to work.
“We need to look at the communities further. I don’t know if it is possible to identify areas in each community which are a huge danger when there is a crisis like the weekend. We are lucky it only lasted a short time but if it was to prolong we would be in a different situation.
“Could we develop a policy where communities would have a small store of salt themselves for wherever they feel are the areas it should be used on? If we had a policy around that, communities would respond to it and we could work together with the communities,” he said.
Cllr Neil Cruise added he had nothing but praise for how the council worked during the period but agreed they had to ‘up the ante’ and work with communities to ensure more roads remained open.
SPC member Cliona Boland said she believed the council had a good winter strategy in place but with the current climate emergency it has to be able to adapt to changing weather conditions.
Mr Dolan added that they will review the Winter Service Plan for next season and take on board what they learned from the last week. He added that the TII are looking to introduce brine to treat roads and this will be more effective when added to grit and salt.