Sunday, July 24, 2005

Dam Floods

Aqua Alta (high water) continues to threaten Venice. While the political types argue about the ambitious and controversial project MOSE (floodgates that will rise from the floor of the lagoon to block the floodwaters), the floods keep coming. The article is from the July 24 online issue of (an Italian news website). I took the photo of the aqua alta in Piazza San Marco in November 2004.

Venice Environmentalists Positive After New Studies (ANSA) - Venice, July 24 - New reports on the environmental damage of a project to protect Venice from sinking have breathed fresh life into a campaign opposed to the scheme.

Two studies prepared by environmental and heritage groups fighting the two-year-old Moses project (MOSE in Italian) have convinced Venice city authorities to call for its temporary halt.

Reports by the Alex Langer Eco-Institute, heritage protection society Italia Nostra and the Italian League for the Protection of Birds detailed a series of administrative and planning violations by the consortium working on MOSE.

"Two months ago we discovered that the construction sites that had started work didn't meet a number of municipal or regional planning regulations," explained Alex Lang Director Michele Boato.

"They also violated EU environmental directives regarding sites of European importance." Boato explained that when nothing had changed after a month, the groups sent a second report, "given that the damage risked becoming irreparable."

At this point, the city council prepared its own study, identifying 19 violations of municipal, regional and European environmental laws, he said.

This has reportedly been sent to the infrastructures ministry and Veneto regional government - the only bodies with the power to put a definitive stop to the project.

Meanwhile, Venice Mayor Massimo Cacciari has also sent a council report to the president of the Venice Water Authority, Maria Giovanna Piva, asking her to not to approve any further stages in MOSE.

The Moses project comprises 79 barriers, designed to rise from the seabed to block the lagoon from the Adriatic Sea when high tides are forecast.

After 30 years of debate and testing, it was inaugurated by Premier Silvio Berlusconi in May 2003, although work is still in the preliminary stages.

The centre-right government in Rome has adopted MOSE as one of the jewels in its nationwide crown of major infrastructural projects but it has long been a source of contention within Venice.

It is opposed by environmentalists, conservation groups and a large number of citizens, angry over the costs involved and concerned at the environmental impact. They say the cash - some 3.4 billion euros - could be put towards more effective, cheaper and less damaging schemes.

Despite a series of legal challenges and widely covered demonstrations, a ruling last year by the regional administrative court gave definitive clearance for the project's go-ahead.

Combined with positive assessments from the Venice Water Authority, the Commission to Safeguard Venice, several teams of international experts and the municipal council's own implacable support for the scheme, environmentalists appeared to be fighting a losing battle.

However, this turnaround in the attitude of city authorities offers fresh hope to MOSE's critics.

The apparent change of heart had been on the cards for some weeks, following the election of Cacciari as Venice mayor in April.

His predecessor, another centre-left figure, backed the project and the issue split left-leaning parties during municipal elections. Cacciari, who made his opposition to the project part of his electoral platform, scored a narrow run-off victory against another centre-left candidate in favour of the plan.

Venice dailies have reported that the environmentalists' reports have also been set to the Venice public prosecutor's office and the environment ministry.

As well as being a biblical reference to Moses' parting of the seas, MOSE is an acronym for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (experimental electro mechanical module), a prototype that was built to test how the barriers would operate.

The project's completion date has been put at 2011.

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