New route for Venice cruise ships would damage the lagoon
Governmental decision favours business interests
By Jane Da Mosto. Web only
Published online: 20 August 2014
On 8 August, the large inter-ministerial committee in Rome that decides major issues to do with Venice announced that it intended to use a channel in the lagoon called the Canale Contorta Sant’Angelo to bring the vast cruise ships into the port of Venice instead of sending them through the city. This is not the good news it seems to be. It is like stopping juggernauts from travelling along the London Embankment by rerouting the same traffic and more down a new highway across Hyde Park.
The Canale Contorta is currently a meandering lagoon channel, nowhere wider than 30 metres, and three metres deep. To accommodate the cruise ships it needs to be made at least seven times wider and dredged to a depth of 12 metres. It also has to be straightened out to allow safe navigation.
All this has serious implications for the state of the lagoon. There is already a huge channel through that part of the lagoon, which was dredged in the late 1960s to allow petrol tankers to service the industries by the lagoon at Marghera. This Canale dei Petroli has had a dramatic and well-documented effect on the lagoon morphology, accelerating the rate of sediment outflow into the open sea and increasing the frequency of flooding events in Venice.
The new canal would be essentially an extension of the Canale dei Petroli, bringing it close to the heart of Venice and intersecting with the Giudecca Canal. There would be consequences also for water quality as dangerously contaminated sediments in the Marghera region get churned up by the dredging and erosion caused by the stronger currents and the passage of the ships down the new canal.
The background to this decision is that the politicians in Rome have demonstrated time and again that they are not well briefed on the critical environmental issues facing Venice and thus take decisions on political rather than scientific grounds. In addition, many of the published studies relating to the environmental impact of the big ships are out of date and have been carried out with direct funding by the Port of Venice without independent review, so they are unreliable.
Only the strong-vested interests of the port were represented at the 8 August meeting and there was no representative of the municipality of Venice present apart from its temporary commissioner, appointed by the ministry of internal affairs after the resignation in June of Mayor Orsoni, who is under arrest for allegedly having accepted illegal election funding.
The 8 August decision is still subject to an official environmental impact assessment, to take place within 90 days from that date (6 November). Urban planning experts are beginning to expose conflicts between the plan and existing legislation to safeguard Venice and the lagoon, as well as the port’s own regulatory plan.
A petition to prime minister Matteo Renzi has been organised, asking him to reverse this decision.
Jane Da Mosto is the co-founder of the Venice activist group We Are Here Venice
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