The archaeological dig on the route of the new Cherrymount Link Road in Enniskillen could delay the opening until next August at an additional cost of over £2 million, it has been claimed.
Just a week ago the Department of Regional Development announced that the by-pass linking the Cherrymount Roundabout with a new roundabout on the Tempo Road was due to open next March.
However, last Friday a number of public representatives visited the excavation of the Drumclay Crannog, the site of an ancient dwelling on the section of the by-pass between Cherrymount and the Coa Road.
Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott was among those who met the team of over 30 archaeologists involved in the dig.
"They hinted that for them to do a really good job and get all the material, they could really do with a delay until the end of June," says Mr. Elliott.
The time period for the excavation has already been extended on three occasions and under the present arrangement it is due to be completed at the end of December.
In a written question to his party colleague Danny Kennedy, the Minister for Regional Development, Mr. Elliott asked how much the delay due to the dig has cost so far.
In his reply Mr. Kennedy states: "My Department's Roads Service has advised that, to date, the estimated cost per week of the delay to the work on the Cherrymount Link Road arising from the archaeological excavation of the crannog, is £50,000. This estimate includes the cost of archaeological excavation work, costs incurred by the contractor and supervision costs incurred by Roads Service."
A Department spokesman said the dig is currently scheduled to last a total of 28 weeks, which at £50,000 a week would add £1.4 million to the cost.
The excavation is being undertaken on behalf of the Department of Environment.
Mr. Elliott is concerned that if Environment Minister Alex Attwood grants the archaeologists until June to complete their work it will add over £2 million to the cost and the road won't actually open until next August.
Mr. Attwood is due to announce today (Thursday) "spectacular finds" at the crannog and there have been hints that it will "re-write the history books".
His spokesman said: "There have been a number of significant discoveries at the Drumclay Crannog excavation which are reshaping our understanding of medieval life at these kinds of sites."
Mr. Elliott acknowledges that the excavation is revealing "important stuff" and that the archaeologists are "extremely excited and believe this will make history".
However, he believes the archaeology has to be balanced against the additional cost and the delay in opening the road.
He thinks the Cherrymount Link should have been better planned from the outset and either a bridge built over the site or a different line taken for the road.
"If it was so important I think they should have had it better plotted and mapped," he says.
He believes it may be time for the archaeologists to take the finds they have made so far and call it a day.
"The rest can be left intact for people in 400 or 500 years time," he suggests.
"There comes a stage when you have to say: 'We do have to move on.' They could at any stage bury the remainder and leave it for another generation," says Mr. Elliott.