Carrick-on-Suir's Town Engineer has refused to guarantee that road resurfacing projects will never go ahead in the town again in December and defended the decision to finish one project at the height of the Christmas shopping season last month despite the impact on local traders.
Eoin Powell informed the Town Council's January meeting he couldn't give such a guarantee.
And of his decision to press ahead with completing the resurfacing works on the N24, which passes through the town, in mid-December, he declared that in the circumstances he would do the same again.
The Town Council was condemned by Carrick-on-Suir Business Association for resuming the N24 resurfacing project on Monday, December 13, which continued until Thursday of that week.
The Association, in a strongly worded statement, said the resurfacing works cut off many businesses in the town and increased traffic congestion. It described the impact on their trade as "catastrophic" with some traders reporting a 75% drop in businesses.
COSBA accused the Town Council of breaking its promise not to carry out roadworks in December without consulting the local business community and warned that its action could be the "final death knell" for many local businessses.
In response to the outcry from local businesses, Cllr Margaret Croke tabled a motion at last week's Town Council meeting calling on the Council not to carry out road resurfacing or line marking in December. Cllr Croke said she realised that the Council had to get works completed by the end of the year but she argued it would be more appropriate to get them done in November.
After responding that he couldn't give such a guarantee, Mr Powell explained the reasons why the road resurfacing was completed in December.
He said the Council received the funding for the project late and if the money wasn't spent by the end of the year it would be clawed back by the Government.
Mr Powell said the Council received only about E40,000 initially for the N24 resurfacing project, which would go nowhere, but they pushed for more funding and succeeded in securing triple the original allocation.
By the time the Council got the money to do sufficient work it was a bit too late. They started the project in the last week in November, breaking up the road on the Friday but by the Sunday, November 28 the big freeze started.
The work of laying macadam couldn't continue while temperatures remained below 4 degrees as it would break up. They needed a four day gap where there was a thaw and this is why the completed the project on the week starting Monday, December 13.
Mr Powell said they hadn't time to talk to the traders or set up appropriate traffic controls on the first day of works but they had it "fairly well nailed" by the second day.
He maintained that if the Council didn't do this work in the four day window of improved weather it got that week, the road would have completedly disintegrated with another week of bad weather. Another E250,000 would be needed to repair the damage.
Member of the Council supported the motion in principle but several members defended the decision to complete the road resurfacing works last month and praised the quality of the job done.
Cllr Denis Landy said he raised the issue of why road works were done so late in the year at the Co. Council's annual budget meeting and was told by the Council's Director of Roads Billy McEvoy that funding for road works were only allocated for the year but by the time the Council notified of the money and completes the tendering process it is the "back end of the year" before the work starts.
He said the Co. Council has requested that the funding be available for a two year period so that road resurfacing projects can be started in the spring of the following year.
The Labour councillor acknowledged the road works did affect trade in the town before Christmas but he pointed out that a fantastic job was done on the road. "What would we be discussing now if it was decided no to do the work in December and the money was clawed back," he asked.
"Mr Powell got extra money to get more work than should have been done. If you want an omelette you have to crack eggs.. It was unfortunate the way it happened but we have a good job done now and it will be done for a long time."
Fianna Fail Cllr Kieran Bourke said what happened was unfortuante and timing and bad luck had a lot to do with the situation that arose but he took exception to an e-mail from COSBA that criticised Council staff. The excellent job on the N24 wouldn't have been done but for the extra work the Town Engineer did, he said.
Independent Cllr Patsy Fitzgerald said the e-mail, received by most councillors, was in "poor taste" and made a "quite untrue allegation". They seemed to have forgotten the huge impact the weather had on the situation.
He suggested that in future the Town Council liaise with the business community about upcoming road projects and issues concerning diversions and maybe put things in place a bit sooner than December.