A CLARE senator has been sharply critical of damage to rural roads by forestry operators, writes Fiona McGarry.
Senator Martin Conway raised the issue with the minister with responsibility for the sector, Senator Pippa Hackett last week.
The Ennistymon native told Minister Hackett that Coillte and other operators were ‘wrecking’ roads.
The Fine Gael member called for forestry operators to be required to set aside funds to pay for the repair of damage. He also voiced concerns about “non-existent” communication from operators with the local authority.
“The problem is when Coillte, for example, goes in and fells trees, unfortunately the roads, which are largely built on bog, are not able to handle the heavy goods vehicles that are transporting the timber,” Senator Conway said.
“This has caused a major problem for people who live in the area, such as farmers and families who use the roads and the local authority.
“The issue is that the local authority could have resurfaced one of these roads. Coillte is then granted a licence to proceed to do its tree felling and to, essentially, wreck the road. There is no comeback for the local authority, whatsoever, in terms of compensation.”
Senator Conway said that in other counties, including Mayo and Kerry, where Coillte had been obliged to come in and address local authority meetings.
“We need a proper plan to deal the reconstruction of these roads post-felling,” he said.
“I am proposing that if and when a licence is being issued to Coillte or any other party to fell trees, there would be a condition built into that licence for a before-and-after road condition survey to be carried out and there would be an agreement beforehand on the condition the road is in before the tree felling starts and on what condition it should be in when it finishes.
“To ensure that what exists now will exist after felling, there must be a commitment of funding, compensation or whatever word one wishes to use, and that commitment must be there in black and white.”
Thanking Senator Conway for the proposal, Minister Hackett noted that forestry plays a crucial role in the rural economy and in climate change mitigation.
“With regard to roads, the Department is not seeking to involve detailed public road management issues within the current felling licensing processes,” she said.
“There are a number of safeguards and measures in place to protect the public road network, and good communications, planning and management are central to implementing these.”
She outlined that all applications involving clear-fell are referred directly to the local authority for comment.
“Where felling licences are issued, once a licensee or the licensee’s haulier has accessed the public road network, the safe use and prevention of damage to the road are seen as matters exclusively for the local roads authority, the county council, An Garda Síochána, and the licensee or the licensee’s haulier,” the minister said.
Minister Hackett noted that additional consultation with local authorities is provided for when new forest roads and entrances are being constructed.
“My Department now acts as the consent authority for applications for forest road works licences, where the forest road provides access to a public road other than a national road or there is material widening of an existing entrance,” she said.
Senator Martin Conway thanked the minister but expressed disappointment with the response.
“I believe this is a problem,” he said. “While proper communication, safeguards and so forth work in many places, there are areas where they do not work. Where is the penalty or the consequences when there is no proper communication?
“Are there situations where these companies are fined if they do not comply? What are the safeguards? What is the auditing of these organisations? Are they spot-checked?
“Are the local authorities communicated with post the tree felling to see if they are satisfied with the level of communication? I am told that certainly in parts of Clare the communication is practically non-existent and that the local authority executive and engineers have to chase it.
“They get word that this is happening and will not be told. There is no commencement date and they are chasing or essentially fire fighting, using money that should be used for local road improvement schemes, other local community roads, improving footpaths, disabled access, improving car parking and so forth.
“Unfortunately, too often too much money is spent cleaning up after these companies when they have completed their tree felling.”
Minister Hackett agreed that issues need to be addressed.
“Perhaps there is scope to explore how that communication is working – whether there is feedback, whether the local authorities are responding in an appropriate way and whether there is communication between the hauliers and the local authorities – but they should certainly be trying to adhere to the advice that comes with the code of practice relating to managing and moving timber,” she said.
“To be honest, we are going to have more movement of timber in the next decade and it is something that needs consideration.”