Clonmel looking forward to a flood-free future - no more sandbags, heartache or hardship

Bernie Commins

Bernie Commins

Picture it: a Clonmel without floods; a town free from the remnants of the murky flood waters; a townspeople who haven’t had their homes and businesses invaded by that mighty river Suir - much loved, yet much feared at times; a place where those brown, slouching sandbags are no longer a feature of doorsteps and entrances that lie near the path of the meandering swell. For the past number of years Clonmel has had a troubled relationship with a river that was once at the industrial heart of the town, yet has, on many occasions, made life difficult for hundreds of people. Some critics of the local authority in Clonmel have said that decisions made over the years left little option for the Suir but to follow the only path that was left to it. And sadly homes and businesses shared that same path.

But in a matter of months Clonmel will become a town with a one-in-one-hundred year chance of flooding. The familiar images of submerged premises and the heartbroken people affected will be confined to the archives of newspapers and photographers’ portfolios, evidence of Clonmel’s flooded past. After four-and-a-half years of the Clonmel Flood Relief Works, the town will be defended from that mighty river Suir.

Progress on the three-phase scheme is proceeding well and despite Government cuts to capital expenditure in Budget 2012 to the tune of €755m, the Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW) Brian Hayes TD recently confirmed that he is committed to completing the scheme in Clonmel and that funding for this project has been ring fenced.

Phase one, Clonmel West which commenced in April 2008, is substantially complete with phases two and three, Clonmel North and East, progressing simultaneously at the moment with a view to being finished by Summer 2012. When this happens, approximately 500 homes and businesses will be protected.

The scheme has altered the landscape of Clonmel significantly, particularly in the Old Bridge area, and on the Quay where the once unassuming railing has been replaced by a serious flood wall. This wall, which runs the length of the Quay, apart from a segment in Monument Car Park under the Gashouse Bridge which remains open, will be further reinforced during potential flood risk by demountable aluminium beams that will add extra height to the wall and extra protection to the town. The days of the sandbags in Clonmel will be a thing of the past.

Town engineer Jonathon Cooney explained that these demountable beams will be erected in 25 locations around Clonmel which are further divided into three different priority areas. A German company won the OPW’s tender for the manufacture of these structures and a total of 2,330 beams and 248 posts have been imported to Clonmel over the past 12 months.

In 2011, Clonmel Borough Council carried out three trial runs in the erection of these structures in the different areas. In the event of future flood risk these beams will be transported from storage on a low loader trailer on the back of a tractor unit and erected manually, with the exception of a number of posts that will be erected by JCB.

In the event of a flood warning, the first priority area incorporating nine locations, will be targeted by three crews of four people. Within four hours these nine vulnerable flood risk areas will be protected, according to Mr. Cooney.

The nine areas include: the Workmen’s Boat Club; Green Lane; Monument Car Park; Suirside Car Park; first entrance to the Presentation Convent; Suir Island; second entrance to the Presentation Convent and Sandybanks in Marlfield south. It will take one crew the full four hours to erect the demountables at Monument Car Park while the remaining eight locations will be secured by the other crews simultaneously and also completed within the four hour time frame.

“When the first nine locations are secured, we will then re-assess the situation and if the Suir continues to rise, we will then move onto priority two which comprises eight further areas,” explained Mr. Cooney.

The last time that Clonmel experienced serious flooding was in 2009, on two occasions at the start and end of that year. According to Mr. Cooney when the scheme is completed and priority one demountables in place, similar floods to those which occurred in 2009 will be prevented.

The second priority area will incorporate areas including the Dry Bridge, in the Old Bridge area; Riverview Court in Irishtown; Raheen Road at Lady Blessington’s Weir; Joyce’s Lane and Marlfield north. When these locations are secure, once again the situation will be assessed and in the event of a very significant flood event, they will move onto priority three, explained Mr. Cooney.

A further eight locations will complete the defences and include: the Quay from Monument Car Park as far as the Old Bridge; Denis Burke Park; third entrance to the Presentation Convent; Stretches Island; and the remainder of the Quay from the Old Bridge to Joyce’s Lane.

“Priority two locations will be secured in four hours with priority three completed in six hours by a crew of 20 men.

Mr. Cooney is satisfied with the progress of the scheme and confident that it will protect people’s homes and businesses.

“The OPW will have spent €40m on a scheme similar to others including that in Carrick-on-Suir which was completed in 2002 and has been very successful to date, I am confident that the OPW’s involvement in Clonmel will be very positive.”

“The scheme will give protection to over 500 residential and commercial properties in the town of Clonmel and environs,” said Mr. Cooney.

Mr. Cooney explained that the time taken to erect the demountables beams in the priority locations is not a cause for concern. Over the past year-and-a-half the OPW and Clonmel Borough Council have installed sophisticated flood detection equipment in the river Suir which will alert them to flood risk very early on.

A total of 27 rain gauges and 16 river gauges have been installed in the Suir catchment area from Templemore in North Tipperary to Adamstown, near Carrick-on-Suir. As well as that a computer generated model has also been designed which predicts water flow and levels, and is currently being used to predict the likelihood of floods occurring in the town.

“Approximately 74% of the Suir catchment that reaches Clonmel is from north of Cahir Park, which has a lead time of nine hours,” said Mr Cooney.

“This gives Clonmel a nine hour warning.

“A further 14% comes from Fourmilewater and Tar Bridge which are small tributaries of the Suir, and that has a lead time of four to five hours.

“But we are always monitoring the weather and are always keeping up to date with Met Eireann also.”

Another key feature of the flood detection system is a text messaging service which comes into effect when the river exceeds a certain predetermined threshold. When this happens Mr. Cooney and a number of other council staff receive a text message from the river gauge.

Significant construction work has been carried out on four of the five bridges that are located in the Old Bridge area of the town including the Old Bridge itself, which was stripped back to its medieval arches, anchored and rebuilt.

Work is also ongoing in Cascade Park, where the Auk stream burst its banks last year, flooding many of the residents’ homes there. According to Jim Hanley who is the senior resident engineer, this stream is being channelled and culverted to prevent such flooding from occurring again.

The main priority of this scheme is to protect people’s homes and businesses as this offers the best value for money, according to Mr. Cooney, but a number of roads will still flood during periods of very heavy rainfall, including the Convent Road and access to the Old Bridge area via the Dry Bridge.