Fears have been raised that construction of the Mallow bypass could be held up for years due to the need to protect the freshwater pearl mussel.
Engineers designing the bypass are unable to say when construction might start.
These fears were raised during a presentation made at a meeting of the Kanturk/Mallow Municipal District Council.
The bypass, which will connect the Fermoy and Mitchelstown roads with the main Cork-Limerick road was first mooted in 2006. Nine potential routes are being assessed for it.
Tom Cannon, the project manager, said with significant changes to design standards, environmental considerations and increase in traffic volumes, it had been necessary to reappraise the project.
He said the scheme is part of the National Development Plan, but there's going to be a review of that.
Mr Cannon said he hoped a preferred route would be known by the end of the year and it is hoped to go for planning permission in late 2022, but he couldn't say when construction would start or finish. He said his office had sent the study area to council planners and they will send them back any applications in that area which they will respond on.
Labour Party councillor James Kennedy also asked about a start date for construction.
“I can't say for certain,” replied Mr Cannon.
He said it was subject to funding and a lot of other caveats, which will include impacts on the environment and the freshwater pearl mussel, which is is protected along the whole length of the River Blackwater. A large part of the study area for the bypass is close to the river.
Cllr Pat Hayes, chairman of the Kanturk/Mallow Municipal District Council, said the bypass was a crucial piece of infrastructure.
“It's so urgent and so important for the whole North Cork area. I'm concerned that it might be impacted by the freshwater pearl mussel,” he said.
“I'm nervous about this and unless we solve the Freshwater Pearl Mussel issue it's highly unlikely it will go ahead,” Cllr Gerard Murphy added.
Councillors have sought a meeting with government departments about trying to get protection of the mussel delisted on the River Blackwater in favour of it only being protected on one of its tributaries, the River Allow.
The council and government agreed some years ago to remove protection for the mussel along the River Blackwater.
However, a recent High Court case reversed that decision and, as a result, the council was forced to turn down some planning applications in the area, for fears about potential pollution of the river. One of them was a 95-house project.
“We're going to have to be very precise about the presentation we make (on this to the government). We will have to try and resolve it quickly,” Mr Murphy added.
Public consultation on the bypass got underway yesterday and will last until August 18. Mr Cannon said drawings outlining the various routes will be exhibited on a large window at Mallow library and will also be available, along with a questionnaire, on www.corkrdo.ie.