A planning application for new flood defences in Foynes is due to be lodged in the coming weeks, with the works scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015.
Minister of State Simon Harris visited Foynes at the weekend, where he met with local Fine Gael TDs, council management, port company representatives and members of Foynes Community Council to discuss the issue.
According to Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan, Mr Harris - who is responsible for the OPW - has given a commitment that funding will be made available for the works. He added that the Minister of State had agreed to come back to Foynes in January to review progress on the project.
“I am pleased that the Minister has agreed to my invitation to come back to Foynes early in the New Year to review progress and I will be organising the visit to include this project in Foynes and other OPW works in the area. I know that he is personally interested to see that the scheme is completed as soon as possible,” said Mr O’Donovan.
He added: “I have been working on this project for a long time now both with the current minister and his predecessor Brian Hayes because I am very much aware of the damage that has been caused to properties and the concerns and fears that exist in the community.”
Following severe flooding in the town last January, Limerick City and County Council came together with the OPW and Shannon Foynes Port Company to work out a solution to prevent a similar event in the future.
This led to a report being prepared by consultants during the summer for which €40,000 was approved by the OPW. Their report is expected to form the basis of the Part 8 planning application due to be lodged by Limerick City and County Council shortly.
However, local councillor Emmett O’Brien said he was concerned about “unnecessary delays in the process”.
He pointed out that there had been a report carried out for the port authority at the start of the year, which could have formed the basis of the work, rather than commissioning another, separate report during the summer.
“In that time, we had various different grandstanding by politicians but no firm commitments, even as late as Friday last,” he said.
Mr O’Brien was also unhappy that no local councillors were invited to the meeting in Foynes last Friday.
“We are working hard on the ground to address this issue. We are trying to progress the matter with Limerick City and County Council and you have basically a private party political meeting with the Minister and two Fine Gael TDs. That worries me because it seems to be politicising an issue which really is affecting the entirety of the Shannon estuary region,” he said.
At Friday’s meeting, senior officials from Limerick City and County Council told Simon Harris that they expected to begin the planning process for the scheme in the coming weeks.
The Office of Public Works said that its original timeframe was still in place and that it expected to see construction start and finish in 2015. Representatives of Shannon Foynes Port Company made a presentation on the work that they had done in the aftermath of the flood and the commitment they have to the project.
Under the timeline set out for the project, the Part 8 planning process is expected to be completed during the first quarter of 2015, and tenders sought from contractors in the second quarter. Construction work is expected to start by the autumn, with the work to be completed by the end of the year.