The problem of drainage of the basin of the Upper Maine River in County Antrim has dragged on for more than 20 years.
Millions of words have been spoken and written about it . . . 5,000 acres of land are involved in it . . . scores of farmers in the Glarryford-Dunloy area are affected by it.
Now fresh optimism has been aroused by an on-the-spot visit by the Minister of Agriculture, Major James D Chichester-Clark.
Speaking to FarmWeek after his detailed tour of the area last week, the Minister said: “This problem has been of serious concern for the past 12 months and I am delighted to say that many difficulties which seemed insoluble then may now be solved. I am optimistic about the outcome.”
An area something like 2,500 acres of land is more or less directly affected by frequent flooding from the Upper Maine while a further area of about the same size is indirectly flooded.
A comprehensive scheme was carried out on the Lower Maine some years ago and this has been of very considerable benefit to agriculture in that district.
However, it has not been possible until now to reconcile the conflicting interests of agriculture and industry in the Upper Maine area and this is the problem under review by the Ministry.
At Dunminning there is a natural rick sill across the river which acts as a barrier to flood water upstream from that point.
Local farmers have maintained for years that this sill should be removed thereby lowering the general level of the river and the water table in the whole area upsteam from it thus reducing considerably the extent of flooding in the area.
The Ministry of Agriculture, however, is apprehensive of the results of such actions since there are various interests downstream which might well be harmed by the quicker rush of water flooding down river in time of flood.
These interests are in particular Frazer and Haughton’s mill at Cullybackey and Gallaher’s cigarette factory at Lisnafillan, Ballymena.
The Ministry has been studying revised proposals for a scheme to take care of these various problems and the present proposed scheme – now at an advanced design stage – is estimated to cost £500,000.
Reviewing the position as “optimistically and realistically,” as he could, Mr W G Malcolm, Chief Engineer, Ministry of Finance, said that while it was “quite impossible” to name a date for the commencement of the work he was more hopeful than ever before about the eventual success of the present scheme.
“My reluctance to name a specific date should not be interpreted as indicating any lack of faith but rather a realistic assessment because of the many snags which can creep up,” Mr Malcolm told FarmWeek.
“We are engaged on the mammoth Blackwater scheme and I would like to think that we could commence operations here well before the completion of work there. The present scheme is well advanced in design and this has been hastened by the revised plans introduced.”
Referring to the long-term nature of the proposed Maine scheme, Mr Malcolm added that even when it is completed a great deal of private drainage would be required “to bring the whole thing to fruition”.
For 75-year-old Mr J A Gaston, County Antrim representative on the Drainage Council since 1949, the detailed tour of the area by the Minister of Agriculture and his officials was a memorable occasion.
“I have been involved with this question for more years than I care to remember,” Mr Gaston remarked, “and I have never been more optimistic. We are now at the beginning of the end of it.”
Referring to the battle waged over the years for a scheme in the area, Mr Gaston added: “Our farmers have a genuine case and I am absolutely delighted to hear that the long wait may soon be over.”
Mr Gaston had a word of praise for the interest taken in the district by Mr J Campbell, the area engineer.