TCS Daily

Barriers to Barriers

By Dominic Standish - April 29, 2003 12:00 AM

Venetians can put their boots in the attic, according to Italy's minister for infrastructure, Pietro Lunardi. On 3 April 2003, the Italian government's Committee for Policy, Coordination and Control (Comitatone) gave Project Mose definitive approval after 37 years of debate.

The rise in the relative sea level (RSL) has meant Venetians frequently have to pull on their boots due to flooding. Businesses are often disrupted. Venice is now flooded roughly 43 times a year, compared with seven at the start of the 20th century, when the RSL was 23 centimeters lower.

Mose is an acronym for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (Experimental Electromechanical Module). It is a system of 79 mobile barriers designed to protect the three entrances to the lagoon that surrounds Venice. The barriers will stay on the seabed until high tides and storms are forecast. Then they will rise up and block the sea from the lagoon.

On 14 May 2003, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will come to Venice for the official start of Mose's construction. It is estimated that the €3 billion project will take eight years to complete. So Venetians should not put their boots in the attic yet.

Project Mose's mobile gates will block high tides 100 centimeters above the Punta della Salute tide meter. This means that lower level flooding could continue after the Project is completed.

With this in mind, Venice's City Council put forward eleven conditions to the Comitatone meeting on 3 April. There is significant opposition to Project Mose within Venice's City Council, which includes many Green Party representatives. Venice's Mayor, Paolo Costa, managed to prevent outright revolt by presenting the 11 conditions for "the equilibrium of the lagoon's morphology." The conditions included plans to raise pavements and protect lower lying parts of the city from floods with smaller projects to have a minimal impact on the lagoon's ecosystem.

These conditions and "this agreement satisfies us from an environmental point of view," said the environment minister, Altero Matteoli. But former Green Party senator Giorgio Sarto was not satisfied. Sarto is a spokesman for the 'Save Venice and the Lagoon' committee that is coordinating Venice's environmental groups against Project Mose. "The most important of the 11 conditions posed by the government of Venice was that alternative solutions would be tested," stated Sarto. "But how can you test something if another project is already under way?"

The environmentalists intend to continue their campaigns against the mobile barriers. The vice-mayor of Mestre (the nearest city to Venice), Green Party member Gianfranco Bettin, has proposed a referendum for Venetians on Project Mose. "We still have our doubts on the Project," was the reaction of Italy's World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to the government's approval of the mobile barriers.

On 10 April 2003, a meeting titled 'Mose? A mistaken and counterproductive project' was held in Venice by the 'Save Venice and the Lagoon' committee. The committee concluded the meeting with a document to ask Venice's City and Regional administrations to:

  • Suspend work started at one entrance to the lagoon

  • Immediately start alternatives to Project Mose

  • Review the entire project and the port's traffic

  • Demand a national environmental impact study on Project Mose (noting that the WWF President, Fulco Pratesi, has written to Venice's mayor, Paolo Costa, about this)

  • Create an administrative, technical workgroup to formally verify and substantiate the special laws and decisions of the Comitatone committee

Despite the go-ahead for Project Mose, the indications are that many disputes lie ahead. The lawyers of the conservationist group Italia Nostra are already preparing to appeal against Mose's approval.

"We consider Mose a disaster for the city and we are not against it for preconceived reasons but for fundamental reasons," said Mauro Zanetto, the director of Italia Nostra's Venice branch. "There are too many question marks and I believe this is not the last word. The approval at this point will give life to serious repercussions in the council's administration because there were many differing positions."

Although the balance of political forces appears to have swung against the environmentalists, they are still campaigning hard against Project Mose. In Italy's turbulent political system, the tide could easily turn against the mobile barriers. The leader of the government opposition coalition is former Green Party member Francesco Rutelli. A change of government could mean funds for Project Mose dry up. So maybe Venetians should take their boots out of the attic and keep them by the door.

Dominic Standish is completing a PhD on Venice and environmental risks.

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