independent

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Wexford readies itself for the return of snow and ice

Plans are in place to minimise disruption if ‘the Beast’ hits again in 2019

Life starting to get back to normal in Irishtown,New Ross, after the storm receded last March
Life starting to get back to normal in Irishtown,New Ross, after the storm receded last March

David Looby

With bitterly cold temperatures forecast in the UK this month, County Wexford is likely to experience a cold snap this winter after an unusually balmy start to 2019.

Wexford County Council have stocked up on salt and put in place emergency weather plans to ensure staff and vehicles can remote and high traffic access areas better than last year.

Snow arrived in abundance in December 2017 and again in April of last year Co. Wexford experienced its worst storm in 70 years when The Beast From The East and Storm Emma swept through the country. The piercing cold weather saw Wexford Harbour freeze and ice floes drift along the coast as the water temperature dropped to a freezing -0.8C. Ambulances were unable to get to patients and if not for the selfless efforts of farmers many people would not have been able to get to hospital.

Tractors and diggers were in short supply and the roads were a no-go zone for most. Up to 20,000 people were without power and the sight of water tankers in villages was a common sight.

The 3rd Battalion of the Defence Forces were drafted in to assist council workers in clearing roads, while several homeless people were given shelter at the Presentation Centre in Enniscorthy.

People living in rural county Wexford were snowed in for a week, often without running water or electricity. Their daily routine involved trudging through the snow to collect water for tankers, bringing their quarry home to boil before using.

Senior roads engineer Noel O'Driscoll said the big lesson learned last year was to have a plan b to ensure freak weather events like last year's storms can be managed.

Mr O'Driscoll said: 'We had a plan in place last year but pretty quickly we had to go back, nearly to the drawing board. We had crews on 12 hour shifts and they would get eight hours rest and go back out.'

Due to the severity of the snow fall many crew members couldn't get home and were put up in hotels instead. Meanwhile the crews who were at home couldn't get to work.

'We had to change things around quickly. After three or four days we got over it. It worked out. We had to act on the hoof.'

The council used contractors and sourced trucks with ploughs fitted with hydraulic snow blades which could turn to 45 degree angles to clear snow from the county's roads.

'We had tractors with blades also but the snow was so heavy the blades weren't powerful enough to shift it so we had to go to quarries and get industrial load shovels. We have them if we need them this year and we have a list of people we can call on. We will either do plan a or plan b.'

The council's two salt barns, containing 1500 tonnes of salt between them (costing approximately €120,000), are fully stocked after an unusually mild winter which saw salt spread on only eight mornings.

'We start our normal salting operation in October and over Christmas and New Year's we were only out once. We have hardly dipped into our reserves from last year. I don't think we will ever be hit as hard and if we could handle that situation we can handle what comes.'

He said in the event of a snow storm farmers can get grit from quarries.

Mr O'Driscoll said power cuts led to the lack of water in homes, adding that ESB workers prioritised areas without water.

'We got word to them and they did prioritse getting these areas back.'

The council prepared a 51-page winter service plan for 2018 and 2019 in the autumn. It states that the local authority owns five demountable salt spreaders, with two drivers assigned to each route. The local authority has one standby demountable salt spreader which is to be used in emergencies and in the event of breakdowns of other salt spreaders. The council also has snow blades fitted to privately hired tractors during snow emergencies and the local authority has contingency plans in place to hire in agricultural contractors to assist with gritting operations.

The plan prioritises 'Priority 1' roads: the N11, N25, N30 and N80, which have mobilisation times of one hour and treatment times of within two and a half hours.

Large, busier regional roads are given a 'Priority 2' status, followed by smaller regional roads, which may or may not be salted depending on the severity of the weather and the availability of salt spreaders.

A winter services manager oversees operations and a rota of duty engineers is included in the plan. At 2 p.m. each day from October 15 last until April 15, 2019, a designated duty engineer examines the Vaisala Manager Weather Protection System.

The council plans to treat the roads prior to the time of the forecast snow, frost, ice formations.

The salting of the Gorey Bypass is overseen by BAM from the Clough roundabout to the county bounds in north county Wexford and by Kilkenny County Council from O'Hanrahan Bridge in New Ross to the Kilkenny county bounds.

Businesspeople in towns and villages across the county are being advised by the council to assist by clearing snow from outside their properties. They have been assured that no legal liability exists in carrying out these clearance works, with the caveat that this is the case when such work is carried out in a safe manner.

No hot water is to be used to melt ice as this will only exacerbate the initial problem and create a slippier surface.

Wexford County Council will be assigned an allocation of salt by Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

Grit has been delivered to depots across the county and the 14,000lt fuel tank for salting and council vehicles has been half filled, with spare parts kept in storage at the council's machinery yard in the Old Dublin Road in Enniscorthy.

Wexford People

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