by Maeve O’Sullivan
November 19th & 20th brought about the dark memories of the flood that left Cork city and University College Cork with nearly €100m worth of damages.
When the River Lee could no longer withhold from the strains of the rising water levels from weeks of heavy rainfall and high tides, it bursts it’s banks, releasing with it three million tonnes of water. UCC expert, Paul Leahy, exclaimed that the soils in the area were already saturated from the excess rainfall and that it affected the soil’s ‘’ability to absorb further rainfall’’.
The water levels, three times the amount that flows through the Mississippi on a daily basis, left UCC institutions such as the Connolly building, Glucskman Gallery, the Maradyke Arena severely damaged. In total, 30 of UCC’s 80 buildings were submerged in water, leaving the University closed for the week.
The flood, which was unfortunately unpredicted, significantly exceeded any previous records of flooding on UCC campus since the construction of the Inniscarra Dam, only 8 miles from UCC, in the 1950s.
Overall, the main impacts of the flood were felt on the western side of the city, which coincides along the front of the University. Additionally, the Kingsley Hotel, County Hall and the Mercy Hospital were further sites affected by the catastrophic flood. Emergency evacuation was the priority for the Mercy in the initial effects of the flood.
Since the flood, there a been a number of legal proceedings involving UCC and ESB in relation to the fault of the flood. Based on grounds of safety, ESB released millions of tonnes of water from the Inniscara Dam, prior to the flood. Over a 104-day trail in 2015, the High Court ruled that the Electricity Supply Board was 60% liable for the damage to the University. Mr Justice Barret ruled in favour for UCC against ESB for the compensation of the flood damage. A statement from the University exclaimed that
‘’The ruling provides an important clarification on the obligations of the dam operators and property owners in the sphere of flood management’’.
Despite this ruling, 2018 saw further legal action taken in attempt to appeal the decision, this time, heard in the Supreme Court. ESB wished to appeal the liability placed on them that resulted in insurance provider Aviva, on behalf of UCC, seeking €20m for losses at UCC and a further €14m for losses suffered by other property owners.
The ESB operates 16 Category A dams within the State and the case addressed issues including the liability of a dam operator in respect of persons downstream; the law relating to the existence of duty of care; the definition of any such duty and the liability of statutory undertakings generally and in the law of nuisance.
The three-judge court overturned High Court findings that the ESB was ’60 per cent liable’ in respect of flooding and warnings. The damage arose “from a natural event”, ESB did not cause the flooding of UCC’s buildings and it had no legal duty to avoid unnecessary flooding, the court ruled.