Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Venice Dam Works Hit by New Protest

Demonstrators Invade Work Site Shouting, 'Let's Save Venice'
(ANSA) - Venice, September 5

An ambitious project to save Venice from the sea was hit by an anticapitalist protest on Tuesday. About 200 young anti-globalists staged a sit-in at the site where preliminary works are under way on the MOSE barrier scheme.

They sounded car-horns, shouted slogans and waved banners saying Let's Stop The Eco-Monster and Mose Is Eating Up Venice.

The protest - which lasted about an hour - came a day afer Veneto Governor Giancarlo Galan warned Venice "could suffer the fate of New Orleans" if a centre-left government comes to power next year.

He claimed any new centre-left government would pull the plug on a project that "offers the only hope of making Venice and its lagoon safe for good." The governor of the region around Venice said that the catastrophic floods that have displaced thousands in New Orleans were caused by a lack of political foresight and the forces of Nature.

Similarly, he claimed that if former premier Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition gets in next year, anti-barrier policies and ever higher tides could combine to push Venice into the Adriatic.

Galan's statement stirred a wave of protests from opponents of the plan who believe only alternative projects can save Venice.

Ever since its conception, the scheme has had supporters and opponents. MOSE is a biblical reference to Moses' parting of the seas and an acronym for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (experimental electro mechanical module. Last month an environmentalists' report said the project violated European Union environmental directives regarding sites of European importance.

Another report identified 19 violations of municipal, regional and European environmental laws.

The two reports, however, failed to halt work on the project, which has been going ahead for a few months.

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.

The threat to Venice appears to be increasing as heavier rains have hit northern Italy in recent years, weather experts say.

Scientists have conceived various ways of warding off the waters since a dramatic 1966 flood. In the end, MOSE was approved.

Experts say there are three main reasons for high water in the city: the rising floor in the lagoon caused by incoming silt; the undermining of the islands by the extraction of methane gas in the sea off Venice; and the overall increase in sea levels caused by global warming.

After 30 years of debate and testing, MOSE was inaugurated by Premier Silvio Berlusconi in May 2003 but 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.

Only a turnaround in the attitude of city authorities would offer fresh hope to MOSE's critics.

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

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