Call for investigation into failure of Fermoy flood-relief scheme

Pumping malfunction leading to flooding of properties is ‘disappointing and worrying’

Flood defences in place in Fermoy. File photograph: Office of Public Works

Flood defences in place in Fermoy. File photograph: Office of Public Works

 

The Office of Public Works (OPW) and Cork County Council have been urged to investigate why a pumping system on the Fermoy Flood Defence Scheme failed.

Local Fianna Fáil Cllr Frank O’Flynn said it was disappointing and worrying that a pump in the €37.5 million OPW scheme failed to activate during flooding in the Blackwater river and water started backing up gullies and flooding three commercial premises and some homes in Brian Boru Square.

“We have these demountable barriers in Fermoy and in Mallow that Cork County Council staff put up in anticipation of huge rises in the water level in the Blackwater due to all the rain we had and, to be fair, the barriers worked well in both towns,” he said.

“But it appears that one pump failed to activate in Fermoy, resulting in water coming back up gullies and the Avondhu Bar and the Wimpy takeaway and Fermoy Vapes as well as some private dwellings were flooded to a depth of about two feet or so in the early hours of the morning,” he said.

Cllr O’Flynn said Cork County Council had every confidence in the flood relief scheme but business people and homeowners were left to clean up their premises due to the failure of the system and that needed to be investigated and rectified so there could be no repeat.

He said there needed to be some monitoring and alarm system in place to alert council officials if the pumping system fails to activate, as happened at about 4am on Wednesday, particularly given the money expended on the system to date.

Cllr O’Flynn made his comments as it emerged that council officials had to cope with extremely high volumes of water coming down from the Blackwater river, after up to 100mm of rain fell over a 24-hour period in the western reaches of the river’s catchment near the Kerry border.

Malfunction

Cork County Council said the Fermoy Flood Defence Scheme had been operating on the north bank of the river for almost a decade and this was the first incident where an element of the scheme had malfunctioned.

The council, which acts as the agent for the OPW in operating the scheme, said it was liaising with the contractor who services the pumping stations in Fermoy to investigate the issue.

According to Cork County Council, there was no damage to property in Mallow where the OPW has spent €39.5 million on a flood-relief scheme, but high water levels in the Blackwater forced the closure of Longfield’s Bridge west of the town, Bridge Street and Mallow Bridge for a period.

Water levels in the Blackwater peaked in Mallow at about 10pm, reaching about 15cm below its highest-recorded level during the December 2015 flooding. Bridge Street in Mallow reopened on Wednesday but Park Road remained closed, the council said.

Water levels in the Blackwater peaked in Fermoy at about 5am and were about 22cm below their highest-recorded level of 4.48m in December 2015, forcing the closure of Bridge Street and Thomas Kent Bridge in the town.

According to Cork County Council, several west Cork towns – such as Bandon, where the OPW has spent €31.4 million on flood relief; Clonakilty, where the OPW has spent €29.8 million; and Skibbereen, where the OPW has spent €33 million – were all successfully defended against flooding.

“Council crews were on standby throughout and had set up equipment in numerous other known problem locations, such as Bantry and Rosscarbery. In Dunmanway the use of up to six pumps and tractors with pumping equipment prevented properties from the impact of flood waters.”

Remedy

Minister of State for OPW Patrick O’Donovan acknowledged a small number of properties in Fermoy experienced minor flooding but said the OPW was confident these issues can be remedied successfully in the short term.

Mr O’Donovan said this week’s weather was described in some areas as more severe than that causing flooding in 2009 and 2015, with close to 100mm of rain falling over 24 hours at some locations during a status-orange rainfall weather warning.

Wednesday’s flood events were estimated to be one-in-ten-year events, and it is estimated that some 140 properties including about 50 homes, would have been flooded if the Mallow and Fermoy schemes not in place, he said.