Cork County Council is to seek clarification from Inland Fisheries Ireland over its view that dredging of flooded rivers can only take place as an emergency measure where flood relief schemes are not being undertaken by the OPW.
Cork County Council chief executive Tim Lucey told councillors the council had been in contact with the IFI regarding dredging work on some rivers in Co Cork as an emergency measure in the wake of the recent storms.
Mr Lucey said there is a closed season for dredging and other streamworks between 1st October and 30th April to allow salmon upstream to spawn but the Local Authority Works Act 1949 does allow an exemption for such works when they are carried out in an emergency situation.
He said the IFI was willing to facilitate flood relief works on waterways in an emergency situation but this did not include emergency works where flood relief schemes were planned as is the case in Bandon, Clonakilty and Skibbereen in west Cork.
Mr Lucey said he did not share the IFI’s view on what constituted an emergency situation. Mr Lucey said he was seeking clarification from the fisheries body and all appropriate agencies as to what progress could be made with regard to dredging waterways at risk of overflowing.
Several councillors were critical of the IFI interpretation of the 1949 Local Authority Works Act with Independent Cllr Alan Coleman urging the council to seek legal advice on what is permissible under the Act so emergency dredging could be carried out on the River Bandon in Bandon.
Cllr Coleman from Belgooly said he was “disturbed by the skewed IFI viewpoint that neither Bandon nor Clonakilty nor Skibbereen is an emergency situation”. He said the council should not accept the IFI view but instead should get senior counsel advice on what the law permits.
Independent Cllr Declan Hurley from Dunmanway said it seemed there was more legislation in place to prevent proper maintenance of rivers than to allow it.
He said the Government should introduce emergency legislation to allow emergency works to on flooded rivers.
Inland Fisheries Ireland had been an obstacle to dredging work on the River Bandon in the past but the reality was that many of Ireland's rivers no longer have the water holding capacity they once had and homes were being flooded and roads washed away as a consequence, he said.
However Independent Cllr Marcia D’Alton from Passage West sounded a note of caution and said the major cause of flooding in many rivers was not silt deposits but the construction of pinch points such as bridges and other man-made developments.
The other problem was building on flood plains and spot dredging would not provide the same storage capacity in a river bed as a flood plain while there was also the issue that dredging and increasing water flow could lead to worse flooding for communities downstream.
She said increased planting of native deciduous trees in upstream areas should be examined as such species absorbed rainfall more effectively than coniferous trees and reduced the amount of run-off water entering streams and rivers.
Mr Lucey said the evidence on the benefits of dredging was divided but it appeared to be was most effective when carried out as part of an overall strategy. He also pointed out that landowners bordering waterways had a legal obligation to ensure they are clear of debris.