Laois councillors clash over 'nonsense' idea to dredge rivers instead of digging quarries

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Laois councillors clash over 'nonsense' idea to dredge rivers instead of digging quarries

River dredging

Laois councillors clashed at the February monthly meeting over the suggestion of dredging local rivers for sand and stone instead of excavating quarries.

Fine Gael Cllr Aisling Moran made the suggestion which she says is done in some European countries.

She said that instead of "destroying the once beautiful countryside" in Ireland and exporting stone, that rivers should be dredged, scraping off the base of the river to use silt and sand for building material.

Cllr Moran gave a long statement on her motion at the February meeting of Laois County Council, but one councillor told her he had never heard "such nonsense" and that Cllr Moran was "off her tree".

"Did you know that Hungary get the majority of its aggregates from the river Danube. Dredging the rivers is killing 2 birds with one stone," Cllr Moran said.

"If we were to dredge the rivers, this sediment removal process can be used to gather sand, gravel and other debris that can be used in the construction and road industries. Dredging has many many benefits. It removes dead vegetation and other debris. It keeps the water clean and preserves the local wildlife ecosystems. It stops the excess growth of plant life which can cause oxygen deprivation. Dredging reverses the effects of soil erosion, keeping the local ecosystem and its native plant and aquatic wildlife intact. It reduces the risk of flooding and eliminates the extra costs on the government and local authorities that flooding does create," she claimed. 

"And the beauty is that after you finish dredging the rivers, you can start all over again, its sustainable it’s a circular economy," she said.

Ireland only recycles 5% of construction waste, but in other countries it is 90%, including the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Slovenia, Austria and Latvia," Cllr Moran said.

She listed her issues with quarries.

"Quarrying is a visual intrusion on our countryside, it damages landscapes, damages our cave systems, it causes a deterioration in water quality, loss of land, increases traffic in the area and in most cases the road network going to and from the quarry are not suffice for the heavy traffic using them. There is noise pollution, dust, smoke. House prices in the area decrease. And then when they are finished quarrying and have made their fortune, we are left with an eyesore, gaping holes in our countryside that can fill up with water, forming dangerous quarry lakes, or they are turned into landfills. Destroying the once beautiful countryside that we had. What I am proposing is that we look at countries like the Netherlands, where they are using 100% recyclable materials for civil and road projects," Cllr Moran said.

Cllr Moran also maintains that Ireland is "digging up our beautiful countryside so that we can export millions of euros worth of aggregates to other countries, so that they can keep their countryside intact".

"During the Celtic Tiger era, Ireland was producing over 130 million tonnes of sand and gravel per year, roughly 30 tonnes per person living in the republic. It was 4 times more than the European average.  I know we need the materials for
building and roads, but its not sustainable, and the fact that we export so much, €134million in precast concrete alone in 2017. We need to look at other ways of getting aggregates for the road and construction industries instead of quarrying and mining," she said.

Her motion was seconded by Cllr Noel Touhy.

However Fianna Fáil Cllr Paddy Bracken told her he was totally opposed. 

"I never heard such nonsense. Where are we to get the material to build houses? We've had a press release from you for the last ten minutes. you're going to dredge rivers to build houses going forward. My understanding is Laois County Council has recycled materials for road building. 

"We can't cut turf shortly, we won't be able to cut timber, now by your yardstick we won't be able to export concrete," he said.

He queried if a new quarry was opening in Cllr Moran's area.

"The quarry industry supports thousands of jobs. In Laois quarries are operated legally, approved by planners and licenced. This is a nonsense," he said.

"We see the limits on dredging rivers we have. If we had no limits it would alleviate flooding but she is off her tree saying we would get enough sand and gravel from that," Cllr Bracken said.

The Director of Services Simon Walton said that Laois County Council is obligated to increase its recycling and reuse of materials.

"We are reliant on local quarries to deliver €30 million of roads in Laois. The Environmental Protection Agency licences quarries," he said.

Dredging rivers is generally only allowed during July and August in Ireland, and only after environmental, ecological and fisheries licences are approved, because of the damage that the process can do to wildlife.