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Dredging the Shannon has moved a step closer after an unprecedented planning decision by the Shannon Flood Risk group for “strategic maintenance works” to be carried out on Ireland’s longest river.
Minister of State for the Office of Public Works (OPW) Seán Canney said the proposal meant we would “make room for the river. It was agreed by everybody that we need to start a plan.”
The group consists of the 10 State agencies with varying responsibilities for the river which were brought together by Government to deal with increased flooding in the Shannon catchment area.
Mr Canney described the decision as a major step forward and said the biggest challenge facing them was that the Shannon was a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EU habitats directive. The group will address all the necessary legal, environmental, technical and other considerations, the OPW said in a statement.
Speaking following the announcement Mr Canney said: “Since I came into office people have been telling me we can’t touch the Shannon. But now people accept we have to touch it to deal with the flooding.”
Nothing had been done in terms of dredging or maintenance for years, he said. “If we don’t do it now we’ll end up clogging the whole Shannon.”
He said “the OPW spent €15 million in 2016 in channel clearing including €5 million on the catchment area of the Shannon but not actually in the Shannon”.
The habitats directive had inhibited action but “if we have to bring our case to Europe we will do so”. He stressed however that he did not believe that would delay it by years.
“We will be taking out some of the stuff, the silt and vegetation that has taken over.”
A separate plan to take out “pinch points” or outcrops of rocks in the river could reduce the level of the Shannon by half a metre in both summer and winter, he said.
The Minister said the programme would take more than a year, with a strategic plan for the entire river. The specific areas for dredging were not identified in the decision made by the flood group at a meeting on December 2nd.
Members of the flood risk group are chief executive officers or equivalent at the OPW, local authorities who are represented by the County and City Management Association, Waterways Ireland, ESB, Inland Fisheries Ireland, the Department of Planning, the Department of Regional and Rural Affairs, Bord na Móna, the Environmental Protection Agency and Irish Water.