Fears over flood risk 12 years on from storm

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The terrifying power of nature was witnessed in the Islands in 2005 when hurricane force winds lashed the region and tragically took the lives of one South Uist family.

The two cars they were travelling in were swept off the road by a buildup of water at the South Ford Causeway.

Twelve years on from that tragedy and criticism has been levelled by Iochdar Community Council about how the causeway remains a flood risk in the area.

In a press statement this week the Community Council highlighted: “The South Ford Causeway was constructed in 1982, and prior to its construction, local people consistently warned that blocking the South Ford channel would be a dangerous and reckless act. Regrettably, this warning proved to be correct.

“The causeway replaced a single lane bridge in use since 1942.

“At that time, there was around 1km of open channel under the bridge through which water could flow.

“The original causeway plans incorporated two 15m openings over this same length but this was reduced to only one 15m opening in order to save costs.”

In October last year the decision was taken not to a have a Fatal Accident Inquiry into the 2005 deaths, as it was felt an inquiry would not provide further information about the cause of the deaths, or establish means to avoid a similar tragedy, not already addressed by the South Ford Hydrodynamic Study.

Since that study was published four years ago measures have been put in place with better warning systems; emergency planning meetings; shift sand and shingle at South Ford, but work to open up the causeway to avoid similar flooding has not yet taken place.

The Iochdar community are now pressing for action to be taken: “Why do the Comhairle continue to push forward other options within the study that are a temporary fix at best and at worst a waste of funding? They should instead engage with the community and help gain the funding for the essential works.

“The only fitting memorial to those who lost their lives in January 2005 is the construction of the recommended bridge section in the South Ford Causeway. Anything else is just ineffectual and an avoidance of responsibility.”

In defence of the criticism a Council spokesman said: “Subsequent to the 2005 storm a study was commissioned to examine the reasons for the flooding and to identify means of reducing risks.

“A number of options were identified that could reduce the risks of future flooding. To date work has been carried out on escape routes and township road improvements, coastal protection schemes and assorted roadworks.

“Consistent with one of the key recommendations we are proceeding with work on the three main elements of the South Ford Flood Risk Management Scheme, which includes the reinstatement and strengthening of Gualan Island and the dune management and flood embankment schemes to the areas of coastline adjacent to Sgoil Lionacleit.”

He revealed that the Comhairle is about to tender for survey work to be carried out at the South Ford Causeway as part of a feasibility study looking at the possibility of creating an additional larger opening in the causeway to further reduce the likelihood of flooding.

The detailed cost of creating the larger opening in the causeway is unknown but estimates range from £10m to £20m. Since 2005, some £16.6m has been spent by the Comhairle and Scottish Government on repairs and betterment works arising from damage caused by the storm.

The spokesman continued: “The Comhairle has lobbied the Scottish Government for additional funding for this project (the larger causeway opening) but so far we have received no commitment.

“It is important that the Comhairle continues to work together with the local community and parliamentary representatives to provide the best chance of securing funding from the Scottish Government on the basis that it is an exceptional needs case.”

Talking about the issue Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan said: “I have raised this issue many times now with the Comhairle. I remain concerned that more progress has not been made in addressing the very real concerns which people in South Uist have raised with me about the potential impact of future storms and coastal flooding.

“The Comhairle have indicated that they will make use of funding when they are ready. I am encouraged by this and realise that work cannot begin tomorrow. However, as this debate has been going for over a decade locally, I will now be in touch with the Comhairle for more information on when we can expect to see likely improvements.”