Cork County Council is encouraging communities to adopt an emergency model like Skibbereen Flood Relief Committee’s (SFRC).
Council chief executive Tim Lucey said that while community self-help response varies around the county, the one in Skibbereen is “more organised and sophisticated”.
Mr Lucey praised SFRC for the structured support and response arrangements it has for the local community.
SFRC was formed in 1978 and consists of a voluntary core committee of six, who can draw on 20 others in an emergency.
If rainfall of 40mm is predicted, they call a meeting in the town’s Civil Defence headquarters.This is attended by locals, gardaí, fire brigade, Civil Defence, and council officials, etc.
SFRC secretary Cathal O’Donovan said that once upstream river gauges show 8.1m of water, Mill Rd will be flooded. 8.3m will flood Townsend St, and so on.
“Sandbags are immediately placed on pallets in strategic areas, so people know where they’ll be,” he said.
“We also have keys to pumping systems around the town and Civil Defence will go out and visit vulnerable people and make sure they are okay.’’
SRFC has a text-alert system which regularly updates more than 170 recipients on how the flood is developing.
Local hotels provide emergency accommodation to people who have to move out of their homes, and stocks of food, clothing and water are maintained.
During Storm Frank, the committee held five meetings between 8pm on December 30 and 6am the next day, at which they analysed what was happening and tried to respond accordingly.
“After the flood subsided, further analysis took place to see if we could improve things,’’ said Mr O’Donovan.
Flooding in Skibbereen was first mentioned in the Dáil in 1944, and since then there have been 22 significant flood events. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, with flood defence works are to start there this year. Mr O’Donovan says it could take another three years before these are completed, so his organisation will stay on full alert in the meantime.
“More people have been rowing in with the committee in recent years,” said Mr O’Donovan, who owns a bookshop on Main St. “The system works and we recommend it to other groups. People must be proactive.
“We’re constantly tweeking and improving the response with each flood and we have had some measure of success.’’
Mr Lucey said organisations such as SFRC were helping to improve communication with the lead response agencies, and provide support at a local level through co-ordinated community activation.
“There is an opportunity for existing flood action groups in many towns, to further develop similar-type community support arrangements, which actively engage in a pre-planned manner with the lead response agencies at the local level,” he said.
“The council has always developed and supported communities who work proactively with it.
“Arising from this severe weather event, it would be important and beneficial for communities to work further in developing their level of preparedness for their community response in flood/severe weather situations.”
Members of the West Cork Civil Defence Unit, who are funded by the council, provided 665 manpower hours in Skibbereen over the three days of Storm Frank. Council workers put in a combined 2,453 hours on the ground. More than 3,000 sandbags were deployed in the town.
Landowners have a lot of responsibility when it comes to making sure rivers which run through their property don’t become clogged with debris which could cause flooding.
Cork County Council chief executive Tim Lucey said that, as the national debate hots up over who is responsible for cleaning rivers, it must be pointed out that landowners have a duty to accept flood waters running through their land and maintain banks and the river bed to ensure the flow of water is not interfered with.
Mr Lucey said that when it came to flooding, “riparian ownership is a significant issue” and that the council was not responsible for maintaining rivers, but would do whatever it could when emergency situations arise.
He said the issue was somewhat similar to hedgecutting. The council carries out some hedgecutting, but it is primarily the responsibility of the landowner. Some landowners have been neglected of this and overgrown hedges on junctions in particular have led to serious road safety issues.
Fine Gael councillor Kevin Murphy leader of Fine Gael, which is the largest party on the council, said many landowners probably did not realise their responsibilities over rivers.
“I will be putting forward a formal motion to the council asking that it writes to all landowners whose land borders waterways to inform them of these responsibilities,” said Mr Murphy. He added that many landowners were very responsible people and would react properly.
However, he said that removing anything from the river could prove complicated as they made need permission from Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI). IFI has already imposed several restrictions on tampering with river beds.
There was uproar on Monday when councillors discovered IFI had banned the county council from dredging rivers in Bandon, Skibbereen, Clonakilty, and Glanmire until OPW flood relief works are completed.
Last April, a senior engineer with the council’s roads department said the local authority would move to prosecute landowners who were refusing to allow drains to be opened up into their land to free water from public roads.
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