A CONTENTIOUS plan to construct a pedestrian-bridge over the River Moy at the Salmon Weir, Ballina, was given the green-light at a Ballina Town Council Meeting last week.
Members of the Ballina Salmon Anglers watched from the public gallery as the plan was approved following some heated debate.
Noel Burke, Senior Engineer, outlined plans to build a cablestay structure, designed to resemble a fishingrod. He said that the original plan had seen the bridge being built over the existing salmon-weir, but that the North Western Fisheries Board had refused permission.
The decision was then made to locate the bridge to the north of the salmon weir, following consultation with local salmon anglers.
Mr Burke also revealed to the chamber that he had received a fax from a group based in West Cork called Friends of the Irish Environment, who are opposed to the construction of the bridge. He said that the group was threatening legal action as an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) had not been completed.
Mr Burke told the chamber that as the bridge would be less than 100m in length, there was no obligation for an EIS to be undertaken: “The fax contains a large number of inaccuracies. I am satisfied that the statutory requirements were fulfilled in relation to the Part 8 Planning Process. We have a small window of opportunity in late July, August and September for construction to commence and I recommend that the Council proceed as advised.”
Cllr Michelle Mulherin welcomed the plans and paid tribute to the Ballina Salmon Anglers: “I am glad that common sense prevailed at the end of the day. This started as a contentious matter but a compromise was reached. Our greatest natural assest is the river, and Bord Failte have recognised the tourist potential of this bridge by offering to fund the project to the tune of €900,000.”
Cllr Johnny O’Malley spoke of his disappointment regarding the position of the bridge: “It is my view that people are going to be continually asking why this bridge was not built over the existing weir, which is an eyesore at the
moment.” Cllr O’Malley then paraphrased Shakespeare, and Charles Haughey, and said that the “salmon anglers have done the town some service”.
Cllr Padraig Moore was scathing when he spoke about the intransigence of the North Western Fisheries Board: “I would like to express my utter disgust with the Fisheries Board. They have closed off access to the Ridgepool, and have ensured that only those with money can get permits to fish there. They have destroyed this project, and what we have here is what is half-best for this town.”
Cllr Tommy Cooke was incensed about the paperwork that he had been handed at the last minute: “It’s just not good enough. I am expected to read through a load of documents here tonight, which may lead me to regret the decision that I make. Councillors seem to be viewed as mere fodder, there is very little regard for us as we are thought to have such limited intelligence.”
Mayor Mark Winters told Cllr Cooke that documents had been received from interested parties at the last minute and said: “All of these faxes were received today and yesterday. The officials are not at fault here. We are all in the same position.”
“Maybe I’m stupid. I would ask the members in the public gallery to come up here and try to read through the stuff up here and do your business at the same time. It’s an impossibility,” Cllr Cooke responded.
Cllr Wille Nolan assured the chamber that he did not concur with Cllr Cooke: “I don’t think of myself as fodder, and I can understand the proposal. I certainly welcome and endorse this project as I have been told that it will not interfere with salmon angling.”
Cllr Mary Kelly was the only councillor to voice a concern about the lack of an EIS: “I have been told that an EIS could cost anything up to •60,000 and I am concerned that this is the reason that an EIS has not been commissioned. We are talking about an area of special conservation here. One third of the annual salmon catch for the Moy comes from this stretch of water and I wonder if this project will be to the detriment of the river.”
Mr Burke told Cllr Kelly that an independent review of the decision not to do an EIS had been done, and the decision had been sanctioned: “We are not in the business of destroying our river,” he added.
Mr Burke said: “Moving this bridge is a small price to pay as this bridge will open up the river side walk for locals and tourists alike. We have a small window of opportunity for work to commence on this brdge, and I am asking the members of this council to Failte Ireland will be funding this project to the tune of •900,000.”
© Western People