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Councillor Cillian Murphy: “There are metre-deep craters. That is utterly down to afforestation."

Forestry leaving Clare rural roads like ‘moonscapes’

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DAMAGE caused by forestry extraction to roads in West Clare has been compared to a “moonscape”, by one member of the local authority. 

Councillor Cillian Murphy was speaking in support of a motion from the Cathaoirleach at the May meeting of Clare County Council.

The chairperson, Councillor PJ Ryan called for the enactment of a bye-law holding timber harvesting benefactors responsible for any damaged to public roads during extraction operations.

“Most councillors will have come across this,” he said. “The issue is very prominent in West, East and South East Clare. When the roads are damaged, its virtually impossible to get any kind of contribution.

“These roads were never designed for these kinds of trucks. Some were only designed for a horse and cart. When the road gets damaged, its back to the local authority and its a huge drawn on our roads funding schemes. Residents are up in arms. They are asking why those taking out timber ore not paying. Its not in the legislation and that’s an absolutely serious problem.”

Seconding the motion, Councillor Murphy said he had received video and photos of a section of the L6083.

“There are metre-deep craters,” he said. “That is utterly down to afforestation. You also have to think of the impact on those running Group Water Schemes who have pipes under those roads. When it comes to this issue, we shouldn’t be ‘should’-ing we should be ‘can’-ing. If anyone else was doing this to property we are in charge of, we would be chasing them through the courts. The roads are being left like a moonscape.”

Councillor Pat Hayes said he too was supportive. “We have one of highest percentages of land planted anywhere in Ireland, in East Clare,” he said.

“We need an agreed policy. Some investment companies have ownership of large swathes of land. It’s difficult to follow up.

“I would encourage Senior Engineer John Leahy to sit down and draw up a scheme and a partnership. The value of forestry is also really important, but when it comes to the investment sector, it can be a challenge to find who owns the forestry.”

Councillor Joe Cooney described the motion as “fantastic”.

“In fairness to Coillte and private owners, they have come good on different occasions,” he said. “I am aware of owners who have paid into schemes. We need to acknowledge that. If there was something that could be put in place going forward, that would be great.”

Councillor Joe Garrihy noted that the issue is a national one. “I have been in touch with colleagues in Mayo and Galway and it was raised in the Seanad by Senator Martin Conway recently,” he said.

“The response he got from Minister Pippa Hackett was disappointing. This is a big issue in West Clare Municipal District. I would propose that we share the motion with all other councils. There was a big issue with a road in Kilnamona last year. Some other roads are almost impassable in the West Clare district due to damage.”

Councillor Michael Begley said that when it came to forestry owners, Coillte, particularly in East Clare, have contributed to the Community Improvement Scheme (CIS) and have put in their own continuing maintenance plans. 

“This must be one of the most major issues that is outside the planning process,” he said.

“If investors had to build a road, it would cost an awful lot of money. Instead, they are allowed, free of charge, to avail of a very poor road network. We need to have negotiations with the Department of Agriculture to get clauses included in forestry licences.”

Councillor Joe Killeen said there were lots of issues making forestry un-profitable. “Getting licences is near impossible,” he said.

“Extracting timber is also very difficult. When someone gets a licence, they must negotiate with the Roads Section, who can stop operations based on the weight of trucks. Someone has to be responsible, but it cant always be the Council. Ground rules need to be set. The Council need to insists and so does the Department, but we cant make it uneconomical to extract timber from someones own forest. There has to be sense on both sides.”

Mr Leahy outlined that the relevant legislation governing the issue if the 1993 Roads Act.

“We can’t issue bye-laws,” he said. “The Department of Agriculture issues forestry licences. These are then forwarded to the Municipal Districts for conditioning. That’s where the problem is because not all operators adhere to conditions.

“This is a national issue, but we do have a lot of forestry operators in Clare. The Council has commenced dialogue with operators and Department. We are making good progress and going in the right direction.”

A written response from Mr Leahy noted that the issue affects East and West Clare, but is worse in the latter area.

“Communication and meetings have taken place between Clare County Council Roads Section and West Clare Municipal District, Department of Agriculture and with forestry operators. It is recognised that the system in place is not working as well as it could. Significant progress is being made with a view to improving the current arrangements and to find a solution that will work for all stakeholders.”

Councillor Ryan thanked Mr Leahy for his response. “We want to make sure Council doesnt have to pick up the tab,” he said. “Those who live on roads need proper access to their property.”

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