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Galway researchers use drones to take water samples



A Galway college is involved in pioneering research to assess the potential of drones to sample water and physico-chemical data from open lakes.

The Marine and Freshwater Research Centre (MRFC) at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) has won funding for the project from the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The research, the first of its kind in Ireland, will be led by Dr Heather Lally, Dr Ian O’Connor and Dr Conor Graham who secured €132,000 for the two-year project.

They will assess the potential of drones for open lake water sampling; evaluate whether water samples collected using drones satisfy good ecological status as set out in the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD); determine whether drones can be used to increase the number of lakes monitored; and examine whether drones can offer a quicker, more cost effective, less labour intensive and safer sampling protocol for the EPA as part of their WFD Lake Monitoring programme.

The project team is made up of multi-national and multi-disciplinary experts including water chemistry scientists, lake biologists, incorporated engineers, licensed unmanned aerial vehicle pilots, and researchers applying drones in environmental monitoring.

The GMIT team are collaborating with industry partners Model Heli Services (MHS), a family-run, small-medium sized enterprise based in Ennis (Liam and Mark Broderick), and Professor Olaf Jensen of Rutgers University in New York State, USA who uses drones to monitor river and lake habitats in North America and Mongolia.

Their findings will inform and enable the development of new operation approaches to sample and monitor water quality. The results will also inform teaching and learning, specifically of undergraduate research projects in field and laboratory techniques.

Principal Investigator Dr Heather Lally says “Application of drone technology in environmental monitoring has really taken off over the last few years. Here at GMIT’s Marine and Freshwater Research Centre, we are coupling this novel technology with a practical approach to solving water quality sampling issues and achieving greater compliance with the EU’s WFD.

“We hope that the project will allow a great number of inaccessible lakes to be monitored, whilst offering quicker sampling times and overall greater value for money to the Irish taxpayer”.

Dr Conor Graham, MFRC, GMIT, remarked: “Success of this innovative and collaborative project has the potential to develop Ireland as world leader in lake water quality monitoring through enhanced efficiency combined with increased safety while considerably reducing the risk of spreading invasive species”.

Mark Broderick, Model Heli Services, said that as drone specialists they were delighted to be collaborating with GMIT in this exciting project.

“Combining our vast knowledge of drones with GMIT’s research capability will allow the use of drones to gather water samples in a safe manner. Lots of lakes are inaccessible or too dangerous to sample using boats. We will try to overcome these issues of safely using drones.

“We look forward to designing and building the drone and payload system. Ireland is leading the way with drones and how they can be used in all sectors – this is another chance to show what can be done.”

MHS will provide the technical know-how to design and build the specialist water sampling payload. MHS will also install separate communication technologies on the drone allowing easy deployment of the sampling payload, and transmission of real-time underwater camera images and physico-chemical data to flight operators that ensure correct and accurate sampling.

Overall the research has the potential to reduce water sampling costs, time, personnel requirements and resources while also improving safety compared to the EPA’s current method of sampling via boats.


Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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Official opening of Galway’s new pedestrian and cycle bridge



The new Salmon Weir pedestrian and cycle bridge will be officially opened to the public next Friday, May 26.

Work on the €10 million bridge got underway in April 2022, before the main structure was hoisted into place in early December.

A lunchtime tape-cutting ceremony will take place on Friday, as the first pedestrians and cyclists traverse the as-yet-unnamed bridge.

The Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, previously said the bridge, once opened, would remove existing conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and traffic “as well as facilitating the Cross-City Link public transport corridor over the existing 200-year-old bridge”.

The naming of the new bridge has been under discussion by the Council’s Civic Commemorations Committee since late last year.

One name that has been in the mix for some time is that of the first woman in Europe to graduate with an engineering degree – Alice Perry.

Ms Perry, who was from Wellpark, graduated from Queen’s College Galway (now University of Galway) in 1906. The university’s engineering building is named in her honour.

The bridge was built by Jons Civil Engineering firm in County Meath and was assembled off-site before being transported to Galway. Funding for the project was provided in full by the National Transport Authority and the European Regional Development Fund.

(Photo: Sheila Gallagher captured the city’s new pedestrian footbridge being raised on the south side of the Salmon Weir Bridge in December. It will officially open next Friday, May 26).

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Minister branded ‘a disgrace’ for reversing land rezoning in Galway City



From the Galway City Tribune – Minister of State for Local Government and Planning, Kieran O’Donnell was labelled a “disgrace” for overturning councillors’ decisions to rezone land in the new City Development Plan.

Minister O’Donnell (pictured) confirmed in a letter to Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath last week that he was reversing 25 material alternations made by councillors to the CDP 2023-29. He made the decision on the advice of Office of Planning Regulator (OPR).

Minister O’Donnell directed that 14 land parcels that were subject to land-use zoning changes by councillors as part of the Material Alterations to the Draft CDP should be reversed.

He directed that a further 11 land parcels in the city should become “unzoned”.

The Minister found that the CDP had not been made in a manner consistent with recommendations of the OPR, which required specific changes to the plan to ensure consistency with the national planning laws and guidelines.

At last week’s Council meeting Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) asked for clarity on the process by which councillors could rezone the lands that had been changed by the Minister’s direction.

Cllr Declan McDonnell said, “What he [Minister O’Donnell] has done is an absolute disgrace”.

And he asked: “Do we have to have another development plan meeting to deal with it?”

Both Cllrs Hoare and McDonnell wondered what would become of the lands that were rezoned or unzoned by the ministerial direction.

Mr McGrath said the Council had put forward an argument in favour of retaining the material alterations in the plan, but ultimately the Minister sided with OPR.

He said if councillors want to make alterations to the new plan, they could go through the process of making a material alteration but this was lengthy.

The Save Roscam Peninsula campaign welcomed the Minister’s decision.

In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, it said the direction would mean the Roscam village area on the Roscam Peninsula will be unzoned and a number of land parcels would revert back to agriculture/high amenity.

A spokesperson for the campaign said: “the material alterations made by city councillors following lobbying by developers continued the long-standing practice of councillors facilitating a developer-led plan rather than an evidence- and policy-based plan that meets the needs of the city.

“The Minister’s direction is an important step in restoring confidence in the planning system. It is clear from the City Council’s own evidence on future housing projections that there was no requirement to zone these lands for residential purposes in order to meet the needs of the targeted population increase up to 2029,” the spokesperson added.

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