Landslide cuts water supplies to 30,000 in north Kerry


UP TO 30,000 people in north Kerry will be without a water supply from today after a landslide of elevated blanket bog in the Stacks Mountains polluted water courses and threatened reservoirs.

The slow slide, which began on Friday afternoon, came to a stop late on Saturday night, reaching over two kilometres in length and up to 55m wide in places. As a result, one house was cut off while the mud came within feet of another. It swept away at least one bridge, blocked a number of minor roads, covered a river and knocked telephone poles.

The mud seeped into north Kerry's most important water sources as well as angling rivers the Smearlagh and the Feale.

Boil-water notices were issued to a number of villages yesterday and Kerry County Council said supplies could be affected for some time.

Anglers expressed dismay at the pollution of the rivers Feale and Smearlagh, and Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris has called for a "thorough investigation into the causes" of the slide.

Wildlife, including the protected hen harrier, as well as frogs and hares, are likely to have been affected.

The Stacks area has been designated for wind farm development and locals had claimed there was a risk of landslides in objections to a wind farm which is under construction. They said yesterday their concerns should have been addressed by the planning authorities.

Tom Harrington, one of those to refer to the danger of landslide in a multiparty appeal to An Bord Pleanála, said while heavy rainfall may have been a factor, locals were in no doubt "the cause of this disaster" was the digging of the road and other work to serve the windfarm on Ballincollig Hill last week.

In his report on the project in 2004, An Bord Pleanála inspector Paul Caprani also expressed concern about the potential for a landslide. "The soil and subsoil conditions comprise of peat underlain with clay. The interface of such permeable and impermeable soils could in my opinion, under certain conditions, possibly be conducive to large-scale soil movement," he said.

Security personnel at Lee Strand Co-Operative, the developer of the wind farm, said nobody would be available to comment until today. However, correspondence and reports show that the developer addressed issues raised by Kerry County Council and An Bord Pleanála before starting construction. Kerry County Council did not speculate on the cause of the landslide, but pointed to recent heavy rainfall as a factor. Senior executive engineer with the council Brian Sweeney said residents in Listowel, Tarbert, Ballybunion and a number of villages would be without a water supply from this morning.

The council took the decision yesterday to cut off supplies to the reservoirs supplying these areas after the rivers from which they source their water turned brown. The residue from the landslide was "vast" and the rain would probably continue to wash the soil and peat into the rivers, Mr Sweeney said.

The council would be using mobile units today, but it was impossible to say when water supplies would return, he added."It's not looking good at this time."

Paddy O'Sullivan, chairman of the Abbeyfeale Anglers Association and a former member of the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board, said after surveying the damage: "This is a lethal blow to the Feale, this is the worst kind of pollution."

Maghanknockane resident Denis Harris was among the first to witness the landslide when leaving his house around 4.30pm on Friday to attend a funeral.

He had gone about a quarter of a mile towards the bridge over the tributary of the river Smearlagh when he saw what looked like frost along the edge of the mountain.

"I looked across the way and I thought it was frost along the edge of the mountain but I knew it couldn't be frost."

There was no bridge to be seen and "and all I could see was the mountain had moved".

Mr Harris said. "It was a frightening experience," he said. A telephone pole was also carried away.

Mr Harris was forced to return home and spend the night on his own. There is access now to his house only through fields.