The Office of Public Works has defended its €140 million flood relief scheme for Cork city amid criticism from local campaigners.
Some local campaigners have expressed concerns that the construction of concrete walls along some of the quays would result in a loss of access to the river without any guarantee of alleviating flooding in the city centre.
The OPW said it welcomed observations on the flood relief scheme but it rejected suggestions by the Save Cork City campaign group that the plans would damage the historical fabric of the city quays and reduce access to both channels of the River Lee as it flows through the city centre.
According to Seán Antóin Ó Muirí of the Save Cork City group, the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme is "heavy handed", involving the construction of concrete walls in the city centre and berms upstream in places such as Fitzgerald's Park when "a more holistic approach would prove more effective".
Mr Ó Muirí pointed out that much of the problem with flooding in Cork city centre occurs when non-reversible valves fail to operate and water comes up through drains rather than over quay walls so building bigger concrete quay walls is not the solution.
He instanced the case of Grenville Place on the north channel of the River Lee where he said the plan envisages building a quay wall that would be two metres higher than the existing road level and although the road level would be raised, the river would no longer be visible from the city.
And he said that creating berms on places such as Fitzgerald’s Park, rather than allowing the river to flow into its natural flood plain, would only result in more water being channelled downstream faster into the city centre where it would increase rather than reduce the risk of flooding.
He said the scheme seemed to take no account of tidal factors as it finishes at Anderson's Quay whereas some sort of tidal barrier downstream would result in more regularised water levels and increased safety and amenity value on the city's quays.
However, the OPW in a detailed statement rejected such concerns and said that all concrete walls would not be more than 1.2m high when viewed from the land side which is the recommended guarding height for such locations.
“Save Cork City has focused on Grenville Place where some reclamation and regarding of the land on the dry side is required to achieve the 1.2m it is acknowledged that the photomontage view of the proposed post-work situation may give the impression the wall is very high in this location.
“This is not the case however and the wall height will be consistent with other walls in the city and will not dramatically change a pedestrian’s view of the river,” said the OPW adding the proposed works on the quays would ensure the future stability of many of the quays which are in a poor state.
The OPW noted that Save Cork City had argued for the use of more glass walls but pointed out that while the office was proposing to use glass walls in some areas, cost was a factor and a concrete wall was estimated to cost €950 per metre compared with the estimated cost of a glass wall at €2,000 per metre.
While it acknowledged that a tidal barrier could defend against tidal flooding, it was not economically feasible as such a proposal would cost at least €400 million and would not deal at all with the fluvial or river problems to the west of the city and in the south channel of the Lee.