QUESTIONS Cllr Michael Loftus.
Forestry company comes under fire for leaving roads ‘impassable’ after harvesting
A REPRESENTATIVE of Coillte, the State-owned forestry company, has accepted that communication with Mayo County Council needs to improve in relation to damage caused to roads during the harvesting of timber.
During an online meeting of Mayo County Council, Colm O’Dwyer, the Business Area Unit Leader with Coillte, bore the full brunt of councillors’ anger at the condition of some roads in the county after forest harvesting by Coillte and its contractors.
Councillors from different areas of the county cited examples of roads left impassable and claimed there was a lack of engagement from Coillte when it is raised with them.
Mr O’Dwyer accepted that communication between his organisation and the local authority needs to be addressed.
“We probably can improve the level of engagement pre-harvesting from the point of view of talking to the engineers. There is a need for a two-way form of communication and probably out of today’s meeting, a group of engineers of Mayo County Council and ourselves should sit down and work out a plan we can both live with in terms of progressing the damage to roads,” he said.
His admission was welcomed by the Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Cllr Richard Finn, and by Crossmolina-based councillor Michael Loftus, who said it was a ‘progressive step’.Cllr Loftus – who is demanding that Coillte pay for €200,000 worth of damage he says it caused to a road in his locality – had requested that a representative of Coillte address the council.
“In the five years I have been councillor, the profit of Coillte has been €455 million, and my issue is the damage to the roads in rural areas and how it affects communities, and what we have to pay to fix the roads.
“It is a strong feeling in my area that you are ignoring the local engineers and you are ignoring the local communities. I feel that strongly about it because our budgets for roads as it is small, and yet we are expected to pay money out of our budget to help the profits of Coillte,” he told the meeting.
In his presentation to the Council, Mr O’Dwyer explained that Coillte currently owns 140,000 hectares of land in Mayo, which equates to 8 percent of the county’s landmass. Last year it harvested 106,000 cubic metres of timber here, he said.
Mr O’Dwyer added that he is aware of the impact that timber harvesting may cause to roads in the county, and he insisted that the company takes steps to prevent this and imposes penalties on its hauliers that exceed their maximum load.
There were calls by Cllr Loftus and others to impose a bond on the company, which they could claim back if damage is caused to roads, but they were informed by council management that this is not possible.
“We have the ability to impose bonds on developments that are under our control in so far as they need planning permission, but as most of you know, there is very little instances where forestry needs planning permission,” explained Director of Services, Catherine McConnell.
“While I understand the anxiousness of the councillors to have some control over the imposition of bonds ... we don’t have the ability under the planning act to impose bonds,” she said.