Information held by Rivers Agency, together with a number of complaints, regarding flooding that occurred at the Linen Green Centre, Moygashel, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone on 05 December 2015.
Thank you for your letters of March 23rd and 24th 2016 respectively and for the disclosure dated April 6th 2016. There are a number of points raised in your letters which I would ask for clarification and a number of issues which have come to light as a result of ongoing investigation and I would ask that you provide a response to the following questions under current Freedom of Information and EIR legislation.
1. I have already asked for an explanation setting out why your department failed to provide and inspection form for the inspection which you now allege took place on March 30th, yet when I requested a copy of all inspection schedules, dating back for five years, you failed to provide one for that date and no details or letter was dispatched at that time to alert me that an inspection had been carried out on March 30th 2015! I think it is reasonable to suggest that when I pointed out that no inspection was carried out on the Park Lake stream from November 27th 2013 one cannot be blamed for thinking that you have created this inspection in an attempt to show that you had not neglected this important watercourse with disastrous results, this view is compounded by the fact that you are unable to provide a paper trail to support your assertion;
2. I do appreciate that you have finally accepted after a prolonged effort on my part to force your department to acknowledge that your Chief Executive had in fact misrepresented the facts by issuing to the media a statement that the grille had been cleared on Friday December 4th, which was 24 hours before it became blocked with tree foliage causing it to overflow into the Linen Green. You will know that Ms Michelle O’Neill (DARD Minister) was asked to clarify when the grille was last cleared prior to the flood and she confirmed that is was last cleared on November 30th 2015. Ms O’Neill did not mention that a drive by inspection had occurred on Saturday December 5th 2015! It is not satisfactory to blame staff for Mr Porter’s misrepresentation. Mr Porter is Chief Executive and ultimately he is responsible for what he states on Television and it is not appropriate to blame someone else, the Minister didn’t get it wrong so Mr Porter should "man up" and accept his part in the mess he contributed to. He was quick to claim "Crown Immunity" however he was not so fast to retract his misinformation and incompetence;
3. Our engineer has examined all material relating to this matter and he has also examined the Park Lane Stream this week. He has drawn our attention to the heaps of leylandii tree cuttings, tree branches and garden waste which had been deposited in 7 piles on the river bank behind a wooden fence at the rear of a dwelling which backed onto the river. I did forward a number of still pictures of these to you in my correspondence dated January 2016. Please provide under the above listed FOI/EIR legislation copies of any notification sent to that property owner to remove this material as it posed a threat to the blockage of the culvert. Also please provide any internal from your inspection team relating to the dangers of householder depositing such waste on the riverbank. I wish to also request any pictures which were taken of these deposits by Rivers Agency staff. It should be noted that these heaps which were left after the storm were in a
dishevelled state and it is most likely that a significant amount of this material was dislodged and washed towards the grille with the flood. You will also note that the material which Andy Watt from DOE removed from the grille was largely made up of this type of tree cuttings which in my view suggests that the bulk of the blockage came from this discarded waste being heaped upon plastic upon the river bank. I am sure that Mr Porter will be able to assist with identification of the property owner as his brother in law owns a property in that development.
4. Our engineer’s inspection notes that this entire area of the river has been cleared of all growing and dead foliage and the banks have been cleared on both the housing development and TransportNI banks of the river. He also states that the trees which Mr Porter stated were of no threat have been cut up and removed from the watercourse. Given that in response to my earlier letters and pictures you stated that there was no significant material blockage or maintenance requiring to be done this work is very substantial and required significant manpower and equipment over a number of days. It should be noted that your engineer carried out a subsequent inspection and failed to report the threat that this volume of tree cuttings and garden waste could have of the grille and since I have already stated that this material was less than 2ft from the water at low level it presented an imminent danger to the grille which seems not to have been apparent to your engineer in his inspection or was that information withheld from me possibly because of some connection with the property owner. I have enclosed a selection of photographs which I have taken of the heaps of garden waste before they were removed and two stills taken last week showing the site after Rivers Agency conducted what is described in the works schedule as category 1 (urgent) works which were listed to last 3 weeks including a digger and dump truck. On that point I would like to draw your attention to your previous comments stating that the inspection only flagged up minor works even though the huge trees were cut and removed together with the requirement for a "squad" of manpower and mechanical equipment;
5. Please confirm if the householder/owner of that property has any family connection with any member of staff at Rivers Agency;
6. In the event that Rivers Agency staff were deployed to remove these heaps of garden waste please explain why enforcement was not applied to this property owner/householder and how you account for Rivers Agency staff being deployed to carry out garden maintenance. If this is the case then those responsible will be asked to present themselves before the Public Accounts Committee at Stormont and I will call for immediate disciplinary action;
7. I note that whilst your engineer walked and inspected the 400 metre watercourse he failed to highlight the lethal potential and likelihood that this huge volume of garden waste, polythene and tree cuttings set within 2 feet above the low water level most of which were washed away with the flood and most likely caused the grille to block and subsequently cause the extensive damage to the Linen Green. I assume that you have sought details from the owner/householder’s insurance policy and I would ask that you forward a copy of that document to me by return. I also assume that you have sought redress from the property owner as it was completely irresponsible and reckless to dump this type and quantity of garden waste on the bank of a watercourse. Please provide details of what action you have initiated to date;
The point relates to the alleged inspection which took place on December 5th. I asked under FOI and EIR for an explanation of how your officer inspected the grille when he never disembarked from his vehicle, you have declined to explain how he managed to do that and it appears that you are treating this FOI/EIR question with contempt. The CCTV shows that he never disembarked from his vehicle, the timing would confirm that yet senior staff seem reluctant to provide a transparent answer setting out how he inspected the grille from inside his van. Please provide a response as I am sure that the insurance company’s barristers will highlight the inference that you are being contemptuous when this matter comes before the courts in due course. As a taxpayer I believe it is both fair and reasonable to ask under FOI legislation for complete transparency yet it appears that you are being evasive with providing material under the act; and
9. Under the disclosure provided by Mr Donnelly dated 6th April you will see that I requested details of litigation against Rivers relating to flooding, Details of complaints relating to flooding incidents and details of judgements relating to conviction for negligence or incompetence relating to flooding. I am aware of a number of judgements and I have asked for details to be compiled. I am suspect that again my request is being deliberately withheld as there are well publicised cases going back over the past 10 years and I find it unbelievable that Mr Donnelly seems not able to find any case on file. He did state that the department did not hold details of claims against Rivers Agency and that he was unable to release this information in full however he did not issue any disclosure whatsoever. Mr Donnelly stated that he would write to me regarding the litigation against Rivers Agency for incompetence and negligence within 10 working days from April 6th. Again we are now at 13 working days with no response so it appears that Rivers Agency do not take current Government legislation too seriously.
Finally could I ask that an independent outside authority be engaged to conduct this investigation as it is clear that Rivers Agency staff investigating themselves is completely inappropriate and has shown the entire department to be flawed from the outset.