Authority insists port project will pose no danger
High water is already affecting cafes in this Venice square.
ROME - The Italian authorities plan to expand Venice's port into a bustling shipping hub, further endangering the fragile lagoon and contributing to the sinking of the treasured city built on water, according to a conservation group.
Venice in Peril, a British fund that works to preserve Venice, said on Monday that a report it obtained from the local port authority showed plans to accommodate more and bigger ships in a bid to compete with other European harbours.
The port authority confirmed it had written the report but insisted the work will respect the environment and is necessary to deal with the growing flow of tourists and goods.
The debate illustrates the complex and often controversial balancing act between protecting the Unesco world heritage site and exploiting a port that gives easy access to prosperous areas of northern Italy and central Europe, as well as rapidly developing markets in the Balkans.
The report, drawn up for the Italian Senate, outlines ongoing and future work including the continued dredging of passages in the shallow lagoon to allow larger vessels in and the construction of a new shipping terminal in the long-declining mainland industrial zone of Porto Marghera.
The port authority is spending at least ?260 million ($535 million) to dredge inlets and navigation channels to allow the passage of ships of up to 400m in length.
This is of particular concern to conservationists because dredging and heavy ship traffic are seen as one of the causes of the rising sea level in the lagoon, which threatens the low-lying islands on which the historic city is built.
Under the combined effect of rising water levels and settling of the land, Venice has sunk 23cm in the last century.
Most experts agree that the waves generated by large ships and the currents that run through the deep passageways play a big part, displacing and dragging out to sea the sandbanks and sediment that help keep water out.
The rising sea level has increased the frequency of floods, and in December, Venice suffered its worst deluge in 22 years. Experts warn the problem could worsen in the coming decades.
The port authority report dismisses environmental concerns by declaring them solved thanks to a project to build towering movable barriers designed to rise from the seabed and prevent flooding.
The system is expected to be operational by 2014. AP
From TODAY, World – Wednesday, 09-Sep-2009