CONSTRUCTION work at the controversial Portavoe reservoir repair has been sabotaged, the Spectator can reveal.
A digger used by contractors at the site has been attacked by vandals who put sand and stones inside the vehicle, damaging the engine – and someone keeps interfering with the flood valve they're there to fix, delaying the repair work.
Portavoe owners Northern Ireland Water have told the Spectator that the scour valve that needs repaired is 'being closed illegally every single night, directly disrupting NI Water works'.
A spokesman for the water company stated that the 10-week timeframe for fixing the valve only kicks in once water levels are low enough for repairmen to get at it, and the interference is setting the beginning of that timeframe back meaning that the more it happens the longer Portavoe will be drained.
And in addition to all of that, NI Water have said that padlocks at the entrance to the site have repeatedly been damaged as well.
NI Water have now reported the vandalism to the PSNI – but they've also been forced to move a planned public information day because of fears over the attacks.
The government-owned water company was going to hold their Portavoe information day at the reservoir today (Thursday) from 9am to 4pm.
But they've now had to move that to Hamilton House on Bangor's Hamilton Road, though it will still run from 9am to 4pm today.
The information day comes hot on the heels of a meeting with North Down Borough Council at the end of last month, during which NI Water officials apologised for failing to tell enough people that they were draining Portavoe.
The water company say that draining the reservoir is the only effective way of getting at the flood valve, but outraged local residents have raised fears that lowering water levels during breeding season has harmed wildlife.
Today's information session is intended to give members of the public an opportunity to meet the team involved with the repair job, and anyone can drop in before 4pm.
Speaking before the vandalism forced a venue change, NI Water's Director of Engineering Procurement, Bill Gowdy, commented that the information day is intended to reassure the public that steps have been taken to protect the Portavoe ecosystem.
"The councillors had a number of legitimate concerns regarding the environmental impact of the work currently taking place at Portavoe Reservoir," Mr Gowdy said.
"Once we had outlined the detailed planning and environmental assessments NI Water had undertaken before starting this work, I believe they were satisfied the work is not harming the habitat of the reservoir.
"The main concern now is ensuring the public are fully informed of the steps NI Water has taken to protect the reservoir habitat during this essential safety maintenance work."
Meanwhile North Down mayor Andrew Muir slammed the vandals, stating, "I condemn this criminal behaviour outright and encourage anyone with any information concerning potential culprits to report this to the police without delay."
Portavoe, pictured recently by David J Campbell, prior to the vandalism