Saturday 21 September 2019

Sexed-up €40m flood plan has councillors drooling

'WE HAVE A strong city. Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.'

Isaiah of Old Testament fame never lived in County Wexford, yet his words surely resonate around Enniscorthy these days. Okay, so 'city' may be stretching things but salvation really is on the way, appointed not so much by the Deity as by the Office of Public Works.

And the person appointed to devise the walls and bulwarks is a jolly, bearded, balding, soft-spoken, quietly insistent engineer with a passion for his craft.

The OPW's Tim Joyce is not so much a Moses with a penchant for parting the Red Sea as someone whose mission is to keep the waters of the River Slaney within bounds.

New Ross has its wet moments. The residents of King Street in Wexford town know all about rising damp. But when it floods in Enniscorthy, it really floods. When the monsoon strikes, the river rises quicker and the river flows faster than just about anywhere else in Ireland.

The experts suggest that the cathedral town is more Welsh than Irish in this respect. With the valley rising steeply on either side of the Slaney, there is simply no safety valve for the escape of raging waters at times of crisis. Just ask the citizens of Aberystwyth about the comparison. The RNLI crew there recently launched their lifeboat and headed inland rather than out to sea, to rescue campers in danger of drowning.

Tim Joyce's fashion sense runs to flashy ties rather than yellow oilskins but he and his team have been well launched to come to the rescue of Enniscorthy.

They have seen the startling pictures from 1965 showing distressed home owners in the Island Road clambering into boats from first floor bedroom windows. They have studied their statistics and made their calculations.

Using the dispassionate number crunching of cost benefit analysis, they reckon that any investment under €66 million is money well spent. They expect that the €40 million (maximum) required for their flood protection programme will head off a larger fortune lost in 50 years of damage and disruption and downright misery suffered by inundated householders and shopkeepers. Moreover, theirs is one arm of Government that genuinely has money to spend.

It is €40 million which the people and politicians of Enniscorthy came close to rejecting. The reaction to the first draft of the scheme was a near universal thumbs down. Never mind the thought of all that lovely money pouring into the local economy, there was more wailing about walls than ever racked Jerusalem. The prospect of being imprisoned behind great slabs of concrete stuck in the collective craw.

So away went Tim Joyce with his flashy ties and his intricate data on river flow velocities. And away he stayed for a couple of years before returning with a sexed-up version of the plan, one which had councillors drooling with delight when he introduced it to them last week. The consensus was, in a word, ' fantastic'.

Granted, walls will still feature. The quarry owners of Wexford must be rubbing their hands at the prospect of supplying tonnes upon endless tonnes of stone to provide a nice finish to all the walls running from Ned Kavanagh's garage all the way down to the Riverside Park hotel. But the stern look has been taken off these massive bulwarks by the simple remedy of topping them with glass panels. At a stroke, the critics have been disarmed. Now the erstwhile opponents are talking about engraving the see-through panels with the town crest rather than about throwing themselves in front of the OPW bulldozers. When can work start, they want to know.

The glass is just one aspect of the strategy. Another crowd pleaser is the proposal for a new footbridge from which pedestrians will be able to look down on the river in safety. The plan opens up the riverbank along the Island Road as a new linear park. A pleasant space for sitting out and drinking coffee will be created at the east side of old bridge, whose solid 18th century charms will present a pleasing contrast with the up-to-the-minute delights of a completely new bridge down river.

Even the fish will be looked after, promises the OPW. The salmon which have tended to dawdle in the town will be assisted to make swift passage towards the spawning beds in Carlow and Wicklow as the plan shows a clearly defined channel for the river at times of low water.

Less obvious features include an ingenious debris trap north of the town. The road level of Abbey Square and Abbey Quay will be subtly raised. A sophisticated system of sumps and pumps will handle rainwater at times of crisis. The unloved Seamus Rafter Bridge, barely two decades old, will be torn out. The grassy bank which slopes down to the river along Templeshannon Quay at present will soon slope up instead. A channel will be cut through the Bare Meadows to relieve any buildup of water pressure.

The flood of 1965 was a once in a century cataclysm. Tim Joyce suggests that his walls and bulwarks would have coped with such a tsunami – with about 20 centimetres to spare. We had all better hope that he has done his sums correctly. The plan is set to go ahead.

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