THE debate over the most appropriate solution to Cork city's flooding issues continues to rumble on as the point of no return approaches.
Plans by the Office of Public Works (OPW), which are close to being finalised, to spend €140m on raising quay walls along the River Lee to protect the city from flooding have drawn criticism for their potential to distance the people of Cork from their long standing relationship with the river.
The flood defences would be the most dramatic change to how river areas of the city look for generations.
However, the plans are supported by the Cork Chamber of Commerce and Cork Business Association who are keen for their members' businesses to be safeguarded against further flooding hardship, which has been a recurring theme in the city for many years.
OPW Junior Minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran visited Cork last week to review flood defence projects and speak with local businesses.
He said the defences could not be delayed any further and there is an eagerness with State departments to press on with the plans.
Construction of the flood defences could take six to 10 years and would cause widespread disruption in the city centre with 22 pump chambers included in plans.
The Save Cork City group has been campaigning for a change in the OPW plans since January. The group is a collective of architects, engineers, academics and professional people who feel the flood defences measures, as set out by the OPW, will negatively affect Cork's aesthetic and will not protect against climate change flooding.
The OPW drawings include the provision of demountable walls in the event of unprecedented water levels but this is a dangerous tactic according to John Hegarty, architect and spokesperson for Save Cork City.
“The water is proposed to be higher than us on the ground. This is a huge change to how the city works and makes us vulnerable to catastrophic flooding,” he said.
“The burden of proof on us is very high. This has all been researched over and over again,” he added.
Save Cork City propose the building of a tidal barrier which they believe will protect the city against tidal flooding and would mean quay walls would not have to be raised.
A tidal barrier has previously been deemed too costly by the OPW who say it would do nothing to prevent fluvial flooding, but they have agreed to revisit the idea and are putting together a costing.
A document published by Save Cork City this week outlines a three-point alternative plan.
They believe that building of a tidal barrier at Lough Mahon near Little Island, where there is a natural area for water to be stored, would prevent tidal surges.
They also advocate for the repair of the quayside landscape and slowing of the river flow through the planting of trees, wetland restoration, water diversion, reinstatement of ditches and alteration of land drainage schemes.
“Our proposal is to control flooding using a downstream tidal barrier supported by the repair of the historic quay walls and a combination of upstream catchment management measures,” the document reads.
“[Our] solution of a tidal barrier at Little Island is a new proposal. It represents a lower environmental impact solution in comparison to the Great Island barriers. Crucially, it allows for ample water storage from upstream behind the barrier. The tidal barrier is a solution for Cork flooding that allows us to move forward now and not have to wait. This is a crucial advantage to the growth and wellbeing of the city.”
Save Cork City are asking the OPW to revisit their plans and take a multidisciplinary approach to flood defences to find the most holistic solutions and ensure the city's connection with water is not diminished rather than treating the River Lee as a problem that needs to be solved.
“[Our plans] would ensure a bright future for our city and the greater Cork area, fully protected from climate change and whatever storms may come; where the river and the harbour would be seen not as a problem but would be restored once again, as in centuries gone by, to being our greatest asset.
“Revisiting and repairing the quay walls and landscape of the city is the best economic solution for Cork. We believe it would greatly increase the development potential of the city, significantly improve city amenity and promote business activity on many levels.”
To view Save Cork City's plans visit: savecorkcity.org/downloads