‘Inaction shows nothing has been learned by ESB’

COMPLACENCY, inertia, arrogance, denial and inaction. These characterised “Official Ireland’s” failure to anticipate and ameliorate last year’s flooding in Cork and are informing its response ever since.

Poor communications, the absence of timely, radical and comprehensive alerts and questionable management at Inniscarra dam all combined to create the “perfect storm” with devastating effects last November.

Twelve months after the catastrophic events which affected the lives and businesses of so many people in the city, the wall at Grenville Place whose breach precipitated much inner-city damage remains unrepaired.

The sandbags brought by the army to stem the flow of water and to reinforce the wall lie there still, split and rotting. Symbolic and shambolic, surely.

Twelve months after the flooding, it emerges that the ESB admits that it has not carried out any infrastructural improvement works, despite the recommendations of Lee Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management Study (CFRAMS) but that it “might” collaborate with the OPW to carry out some pilot works.

The “might” turned to “will” 24 hours after public criticism in the media in recent weeks which really sums up the disposition of the electricity company.

So, the ESB will presumably undertake this infrastructural work now the winter rains have started and the River Lee is in full flow. Great. That should make everyone in the city centre feel a lot better.

More worryingly, the ESB would appear to believe its management of the Inniscarra dam last year was spot on and there is no reason to change its operational procedures. Whether this position is informed by an understandable fear of litigation over last year’s events or actually reflects a strongly held corporate view, I cannot know.

But if it is the latter, then 12 months after the event, nothing has been learned.

The ESB must commit itself to ensuring unmanageable water build-up above the dam does not occur and leave it with no choice but to release vast quantities of water as it did last year with devastating impacts for the city.

That policy must run second to the demands of power supply and should apply well in advance of winter weather.

Failure of Government, the ESB and OPW to act comprehensively will not only expose the city to flooding but will affect investment and development for years to come.

The fact that serious flooding occurred last year should not result in vast tracts of development land, including the Cork Docklands, being sterilised into the future.

The chances of recurrence of the convergence of conditions of last year is remote in the extreme.

Given the appropriate levels of management at Inniscarra dam, the completion of the relatively inexpensive infrastructural work required and the collaboration of Cork City Council and investors/developers to achieve site-specific solutions to theoretical flooding concerns, there is no reason why bad weather cannot be managed and the risk of flooding abated.

A final thought. Had O’Connell Street, Dublin city centre, its hospitals and businesses suffered the same fate as areas of Cork did last year, does anyone seriously think the problem would not have been addressed properly by now?

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