In 2017, the South Galway Flood Relief committee brought its flooding plight to the European Commission (EC) in Brussels. The seeds were sown for the group’s formation way back in 2003 when a 71-turbine wind farm was developed at Derrybrien – 15km outside Gort, Co. Galway.
The group was established on the back of major flooding in the area in 2009 and again in 2015 with local man David Murray at the helm.
In October 2003, a major landslide of some 450,000m³ of peat occurred at Derrybrien.
At the time, the 71-turbine wind farm was being built in mountainous terrain at the location; the landslide left a devastating impact on the community, farmers and livestock in its wake. It also changed the local landscape forever…
When in 2009 the area succumbed to unprecedented flooding and again in 2015 families were left isolated for days and weeks because roadways became impassable.
Elderly residents were airlifted to safety. The area came to a standstill as homeowners, farmers and business owners tried to face up to difficulties that lay ahead.
The people of Gort haven’t forgotten those days and, it seems, they never will either; they live in constant fear now that “the same thing will happen again”.
Action speaks louder than words
This is why the South Galway Flood Relief committee was established and why it ended up taking its case to Brussels.
“We wanted to highlight the effect of the landslide and that is why we went to Europe.”
Murray continued: “We were able to show the devastating effects of major flooding where farm buildings’ contents were being washed into Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) – this was in no way the fault of the farmers but due to several contributory factors – and poor mountain land management was highlighted as one such factor.”
Meanwhile, those in authority in the EC deemed the situation unacceptable and they began to place more focus on the wind farm, which was located at a site that was at the heart of the landslide.
“The EC said the situation could not continue and it focused on the wind farm and the difficulties that arose around that.
“We don’t believe that the wind farm developers even considered flooding when environmental impact assessments were carried out,” Murray added.
“We did approach the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and we highlighted what the problems were.
“We had been trying to create awareness around the issue – as far as we were concerned this was about mountain management and about doing things right.
“If there was an impact that increased speed or content of mountain run-off, then we want the developer to take responsibility to get this water safely to the sea; they could invest in a project like this with South Galway Flood Relief and offer some way of making the situation better.”
Onus of responsibility
Murray, meanwhile, is adamant that if a company comes into an area and causes the increased water flow off a mountain “they have a responsibility to make sure the safe transport to the sea of that water so that it doesn’t flow into farms or onto SACs, etc”.
“The water quality was massively impacted too – in the last flood the slurry from 35 slatted sheds and the effluent from 50 septic tanks was washed into the lakes around here.”
He continued: “There are also two farmers in the area who lost a lot of calves the year after the last flood.
“Initially, they thought it was a contagious disease, but they later discovered that the calves that were dying were from cows that had grazed in areas where there was turloughs [the water had been contaminated].”
Murray also emphasised the fact that there has been a huge “mental health impact” on people living in Gort and its environs “because of everything that has happened”.
“During wintertime many people are on edge because they are terrified that flooding will occur again.
“Last time round, one parish outside Gort – Rinrush – was cut off from the rest of the world for 10 weeks; 10 families – elderly people and people with special needs live there too – and, for that length of time, they could not get access to the road,” he continued.
“Around here a lot of people get very stressed at wintertime.”
Murray admits too that flooding in the area “is getting worse”.
“There is no doubt about it, it is getting worse and when flooding happens here in South Galway it paralyses the communities.
“Last time, there were 22 roads closed for 1,700 days in total. I live about a quarter of a mile away from the school where my children attend and after the 2009 flooding myself and my wife had to do a 40-mile round trip to get the kids to the school because of local road closures,” he continued.
“You couldn’t get from A to B – it was horrendous.”
Murray says the wind farm is not the only causation factor to the increased flooding in the area.
“The flooding is not just as a result of the wind farm – flooding has been increasing over the last 30 years in this area.
“I have no doubt, though, that properly carried out environmental impact assessments will become very important in the future because of situations like what is happening here in Gort.
“This will be because if they are carried out efficiently mitigation measures can be put in place to deal with many of the issues that happened here in South Galway.
“Terrible things happened here – which is infuriating, because if these guys [developers] had carried out proper analysis they would have been able to ask themselves: ‘Is this going to happen?’ and been able to do something about it. But, of course, they didn’t.”
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