July 3rd, 2019
Cork County Council has said that it does not have sufficient funding to repair a crumbling weir on Blackwater River in Fermoy, Co Cork.
Speaking during a Joint Committee on Public Petitions hearing on the issue today, the Council’s Niall Healy called on the Government to provide at least half of the funding required for the weir’s restoration.
The petition to “Save Fermoy Weir” seeks to ensure the save migration of salmon and other fish species by facilitating a new fish pass while preserving local amenities including rowing and angling.
The crumbling state of the weir has reportedly stopped the flow of water through the fish pass during normal low water conditions, endangering the livelihood of salmon and lamprey.
Locals and environmental activists have been calling on local authorities to repair the weir since at least a decade ago.
Mr Healy said that the Council has carried out repair works on the weir on three occasions, but lacks sufficient resources to provide the estimated €2.2 million for the full refurbishment of “the ever-deteriorating weir”.
Mr Healy continued that the Council had requested financial aid from “five different” Government bodies to no avail. It would be impossible, Mr Healy said, to carry out the works without reliance to national capital.
Only the Department of Housing has agreed to offer a financial contribution to the refurbishment’s consultation process, he added.
Labour’s Seán Sherlock TD, who chaired the hearing, suggested that a part of a new €50 million loan granted by the European Investment Bank (EIB) to the Councilcould be spent on Fermoy’s weir.
Responding to his query, however, Mr Healy said that the loan was not finalised yet, but confirmed that the Council did not plan on allocating any portion of it to the weir’s restoration works.
Representing the Department of Environment, Denis Maher, emphasised that his organisation had no responsibility to provide funding for local infrastructure repair works.
Mr Maher said that, while funding the refurbishment of the weir fell out of the Department’s ambit of responsibility, it was accountable to oversee that a new fish passage for the weir would comply with the EU’s Habitat Directive.
Mr Maher continued that the presence of salmon and lamprey in Blackwater River – both protected under the Directive – makes the river an environmentally protected zone that requires the Department’s ecological oversight.
He reiterated, however, that it was up to the Council to pay for the restoration of the weir. “The Department [of Environment] and the Inland Fisheries (IFI) role is entirely regulatory,” Mr Maher said.
John Sydenham from the Office of Public Works (OPW) also said that his organisation did not have a responsibility to restore the weir, strongly denying accusations that the OPW’s flood relief scheme on Blackwater river had contributed to the weir’s deterioration.
“The OPW rejects any allegation that the damage to the weir and the mill race wall in particular occurred during or as a result of the flood relief works in Fermoy,” he said.
“I can confirm that the works which were carried out in constructing the Fermoy flood relief scheme did not interfere with the weir in Fermoy in any way,” Mr Sydenham continued.
Sinn Féin’s Pat Buckley TD expressed dismay about the meeting, stating that he was disheartened by the lack of commitment reflected in the Government representatives’ speeches.
Fermoy weir’s worsening condition has sparked fears of collapse, leading to recent cancellations of various sports events and has adversely impacted Fermoy’s rowing and angling clubs.
Warning about the impact of the cancellation on sports events on Fermoy’s people, Mr Buckley said that he didn’t feel optimistic after listening to Government officials’ presentations at the meeting.
“We can be talking about it for 10 years, and quite possibly, it still won’t be done,” he said. The hearing ended with no resolution with chairperson Sherlock announcing the Fermoy’s weir petition as continuing to remain open.
Speaking to The Green News, ecologist Will O’Connor said that even if money is available, repairing the existing fish passes “will not be adequate” to protect Salmon, Lampreys, Shad and Eels.
“There will need to be a large rock ramp fish pass / bypass channel installed to allow fish passage if the weir is rebuilt,” he said. “Two flood schemes came and went with money available to sort all of this out – but no agreement could be reached. And now the weir is collapsing.”