Plans to combat the risk of flooding in the South Ford area were dismissed as a “waste of time” last night, with local residents holding firm to their belief a new opening in South Ford causeway is the only effective solution.
Yesterday evening Comhairle nan Eilean Siar held a meeting in Iochdar to discuss a package of flood prevention measures which councillors approved two weeks ago.
Iain MacKinnon, Director of Technical Services, said he also wanted to explore with the community how best to make the case to the Scottish Government for a new span in the causeway.
Ever since the fatal storm of 11th January 2005, locals have consistently blamed the causeway for the extreme flooding experienced in Iochdar on that night.
Their views were supported by the South Ford Hydrodynamic Study – published late in 2012 – which said that a 250m opening in the causeway would have lowered water levels significantly during the storm of 2005.
Built in the early 1980s, the causeway is 1000m long and only has one 15m opening.
It was confirmed at the meeting last night that initially the causeway was to feature two 15m openings, the second eventually being removed from plans due to budget constraints.
However, it was pointed out that modelling work conducted for the South Ford Hydrodynamic Study showed that another 15m opening would have made next to no difference in 2005. At least a 250m opening would be required to mitigate the risk of flooding.
David Muir from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar explained the series of actions developed as part of the South Ford Flood Management Scheme which are now being put to SEPA and the Scottish Government for funding.
Under the scheme, three separate measures would be carried out to cut the risk of flooding:
An embankment to stop water moving inland towards Sgoil Lionacleit and the Dark Island Hotel. It is not yet clear how this structure would be built, but it would include a floodgate to release water back to the sea of required.
A beach re-charge scheme for Gualan Island, a natural breakwater extending from Balgarva almost across to Liniclate. Over many decades, Gualan has been eroding, becoming progressively longer, but with significantly less height. As Gualan continues to extend northwards, displaced sand from the island is building up in the southern section of the South Ford basin, blocking the drainage system from Loch Bee. In order to re-charge the island, shingle would be taken from the newly extended north section of the island and piled on the mid-section. Sand built up in the south of the basin would be extracted and placed on top of the shingle.
They accused Comhairle nan Eilean Siar of “wasting time playing with nature” and said that “opening up the causeway would fix the effects of the tide on Gualan Island”.
Others criticised the fact it has taken ten years to reach this stage, and still nothing has been done for the area. One individual asked: “What has to happen before something is done?”
Iain MacKinnon responded that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is bound by the mechanisms and processes that exist.
He said that the package of three measures agreed by councillors would cost in the region of £2 million and should have a good chance of receiving funding.
By removing Gualan Island and adding repairs to the causeway to the package, the cost rockets to £20 million, said Mr MacKinnon.
He underlined that the council would be competing against schemes from all over Scotland, with only £46 million available for projects across the nation.
Mr MacKinnon underlined that the way funding for these projects is decided – by a cost-benefit ratio – is “particularly hard-nosed”.
When scored as the cost of the proposal against the cost of damage avoided, the agreed package of measures, including Gualan Island, has a good chance of being funded, he said. This would not be the case if the causeway was included in the package.
Mr MacKinnon then discussed how representations might be made to the Scottish Government for additional funding to fix the causeway. While conceding in his view that would be “an uphill struggle” he underlined that the need for the community to lead the push for more support.
He said a letter would be drafted and agreed by all local stakeholders as the first step in the process of engagement with the Scottish Government.