Independent consultants to examine flood crisis in Beragh-Sixmilecross area.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

News that the appointment of independent consultants to look at flooding problems in the Beragh-Sixmilecross area has been welcomed locally, but local families affected by the major flooding last August feel more is still needed.

Spokesperson Beverley Henderson said the residents had requested an assessment of the river from the Rivers Agency, but had heard nothing until that day's meeting.

"Everything is moving so slow, we're not sure what has been happening but our fears will not be dealt with until the problem is solved. We're out on a limb, no deadlines. We let our guard down six years ago and trusted everything we were told, we're not going to let that happen again," she said.

Her comments follow a second meeting held on Friday in St Michael's church hall, Sixmilecross, where they met representatives of the Loughs Agency and the Rivers Agency to see what, if any, progress had been made since their first meeting a month earlier.

In a statement this week the Loughs Agency said while dredging the river was a suggestion put forward at the meeting as a way to mitigate against the risk of flooding in the future, the Agency's position would be that dredging was not applicable to salmon rivers, such as the Camowen and Cloughfin.

Their statement added: "There is no policy to support this type of action. In the 1960s to 1980s dredging rivers had been undertaken as part of river drainage schemes, however these schemes have done untold damage to fish stocks and habitats.

Loughs Agency constantly survey the rivers to ensure that they have healthy habitats for all life stages of salmonids. Both rivers in the catchments are excellent fishery rivers and contain large populations of wild brown trout and Atlantic salmon, a species which is in sharp decline.

Loughs Agency have inspected both these catchments over the last couple of weeks in conjunction with Department for Infrastructure Rivers. There are some remedial works that have been agreed, and indeed on the Cloughfin River, some work has already been carried out."

Local UUP councillor, Bert Wilson, said residents were told six years ago that according to official calculations and examinations, such flooding could never happen again but, as recent events proved, this was not the case.

"To be honest the Loughs Agency is more interested in fish than these families. To me the families should be the priority. I think the only answer is to build a flood bank which could be constructed from soil, it's the only answer and not an expensive solution.

You can't do it now but years ago they dredged the rivers and used it for these banks." He added any consultants coming to examine the crisis had to talk to the local people affected to understand not only the local terrain but what locals believe the reasons are for it.

You can have all the fancy computer generated maps you want, but the experience of a man on the ground is also important and should be taken into consideration," he said.

DUP MLA, Tom Buchanan, said the clear message coming from the meeting was the requirement for urgent action on the ground to put in place mitigating measures to stop the re-occurrence of the flooding of homes along this particular stretch of river.

"The anxiety and concern of the families who have been the victims of the recent flooding was again evident at the meeting where they were simply pleading for protection measures to give them peace of mind from future flooding of their homes.

While there is an ongoing consultation exercise to determine what measures are required to protect these families this must be given the urgency it deserves. I am again of the opinion the lowering of the river beds would be a huge help in alleviating this problem.

However whatever mitigating measures the agencies confirm are required to address this problem must be acted on without delay," he said.


Sinn Féin MLA, Declan McAleer, said the continuing fear and anxiety was profound.

"The August flood had a major impact on families in the Sixmilecross area. This is the second time in six years that these homes have been flooded and we heard very personal stories of people being evacuated by tractor and link box and children terrified in their own homes.

It was very evident from these meetings that the human impact was profound and this fear and anxiety continues.

"An inter-agency solution to this issue is needed and it was important to get the key agencies around the table. I welcome the fact that Rivers Agency has appointed a team of independent consultants to assess the situation and report back with recommendations.

It was stated very clearly that any investigation must take on board the views of those affected by the floods, so it will be important for the consultants to engage directly with local residents.

He added: "There is a strong feeling that all possible steps must be taken to ensure that homes and livelihoods are not destroyed again as a result of flooding. As public representatives we will continue to play our part in ensuring that a long term solution is found."


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