DREDGING of a flood-prone river has been given the go-ahead after an early-morning stand-off between a local authority and the state’s fisheries watchdog was resolved.
The stand-off developed on the banks of the River Bandon in Co Cork after contractors working for Cork County Council began removing tonnes of gravel from the bed around the town’s main bridge.
Two officers from the Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) arrived on site an ordered the work to stop. It is an offence under the Fisheries Act to disturb any riverbed, bank or shallow where the spawn or fry of salmon, trout or eels may be.
The gravel removal is the latest short-term measure designed to protect the town from a repeat of last November’s disastrous flood when it was swamped by up to 10 feet of water after the river burst its banks.
Dozens of businesses were destroyed and millions of euro of damage was caused.
The council removed gravel down to the water level in near-drought conditions in June.
But county engineer Noel O’Keeffe said more gravel needs to be removed – this time to a depth of 300 millimetres along a stretch 100m downstream and 50m upstream of the bridge – to create more capacity in the channel.
The work must be done before Friday – dredging is prohibited from October 1 until April.
After the stand-off, high-level talks took place between the IFI and council. Following an assessment by IFI engineers of a council report on the dredging, the diggers were back in the river by the afternoon.
Dr Patrick Buck, director of the IFI South Western River Basin District, defended his organisation’s decision to halt the work yesterday morning.
“The IFI has a statutory remit to protect fisheries. But we are aware of the hardships flooding brings. We try to accommodate everybody,” he said.
He said it was unfortunate that the IFI had not received the council’s engineering report sooner. But once it was assessed by IFI engineers, he said they could see the “merit” in the dredging work, and it was allowed to resume.
“This work will fundamentally destroy an important spawning habitat. But we recognise the flood risk,” Dr Buck said.
And he said he will pursue a “no-net-loss approach” with county manager Martin Riordan to encourage the council to rehabilitate other spawning areas in the river.
However, local Fianna Fáil Cllr Alan Coleman slated the IFI. “Their actions today speak much louder than their comments,” he said.
“They showed scant regard for the people of Bandon who were flooded. Dr Buck has demonstrated the blinkered vision of a one-issue operator.
“If he is genuinely concerned about the people of Bandon, he will allow the council to continue their work beyond the Thursday deadline.”
And he described as “bizarre” Dr Buck’s suggestion that the dredging will destroy spawning grounds.
“Fishermen locally say there is too much gravel coming down, and that this is destroying the spawning grounds and pools,” he said.
Fine Gael Cllr Veronica Neville said: “Every foot of gravel cleared from the river channel is a foot less flooding in the town – that will save a residence, or a business, or a livelihood.”
While the Government has promised nearly €10 million for major engineering works to counteract flooding in the town, it is expected these measures will not be fully in place for another three years.
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