Sunday, September 14, 2014

The lesser of two evils: An offshore touristic port for Venice or more canal digging?

St. Mark's Basin-September 2013
Cruise ships bring hundreds of thousands of tourists to Venice each year who, in turn, contribute to the local and national economy by sustaining, in part, tourist related jobs. However, like Gulliver stepping through Lilliput, these gigantic floating skyscrapers sail through the Venetian lagoon and the fragile historical center—St. Mark’s Basin and the Giudecca Canal—and leave their footprints, too. Two years after the Costa Concordia fiasco, which tragically took 32 lives off the Tuscan coast in January 2012, few people would disagree that large cruise ships threaten the health of Venice—a city which risks its U.N.E.S.C.O. Heritage site status, and is too often treated like a tourist attraction instead of a rare jewel.  

Last month, the Italian Interministerial Committee to Safeguard Venice and the Lagoon met in Rome. All members voted in favor of prohibiting ships weighing more than 40,000 tons from passing through the St. Mark’s Basin.  Yet, only the city of Mira—whose city limits include a good slice of the Venetian lagoon—voted against the committee’s favored solution which would redirect large cruise ships through the Canale Contorta-Sant’Angelo; a natural narrow and shallow canal (more or less 30 meters at its widest point) which veers off of the larger Canale dei Petroli used by industrial ships to enter the Port of Marghera, and in the direction of Venice's existing touristic port. The proposed Contorta-Sant’Angelo project estimates that it would take 18 months to implement work needed to extend, widen and deepen the canal before it could be ready for cruise ship traffic. The city of Mira administrators, along with many grassroots groups and lagoon habituĂ©, believe that digging and extending this canal would cause irreparable damage and environmental consequences to the lagoon and its surrounding areas. It’s been reported that an environmental impact study is being done on this project, while other projects are being reviewed, too.

One of those projects, Porto Novissimo di Lido, was presented by the city of Mira and developed by Luciano Claut, architect and Assessor of Urban development for the city. The proposal calls for a 600 meter floating jetty to be built offshore at the entrance to the lagoon. It would be made up of modules connected by hinges and fixed by simple anchors to the bottom of the sea. In the beginning, this floating port could accommodate four large cruise ships and would be self-reliant. Once the construction of the M.O.S.E. high-tide water gates is completed the floating jetty would be integrated with the island of M.O.S.E. to form a full functioning port. The first step of this project is said to be eco-compatible, low cost and could be up and running in little time.

Sounds interesting, I thought as I listened to the city of Mira administrators who had contacted me and asked me if I would write about their project on my blog—to get the word out in English. They explained that the floating jetty and the M.O.S.E. island port would be used as a customs point and refurbishing spot for the ships. Food, fuel, supplies, luggage and waste would be transferred to and from cargo boats to the cruise ships while offshore, and thousands of cruise passengers each year would be transported by boat to and from Venice’s historic center, the train station, and the Venice airport.

That’s when I removed my rose colored glasses, and the word motondoso kept coming to my lips.

Motondoso is the local term used to describe the damaging waves that claw away Venice’s fragile foundation, and are principally caused by speeding motor boats.

It’s easy to understand that an offshore port would increase the use of and traffic by motorboats, ferryboats, vaporetti, water taxis, group tour boats, cargo boats, boats carrying fuel and waste. Can you imagine the spillage threat waste and fuel being transported from the offshore port to the mainland would bring to Venice and the lagoon? In a city where it’s hard to find local police to patrol the already heavy water traffic and slow motorboats down, wouldn’t an offshore port multiple the problems and risks Venice is trying to resolve?

I’m not an engineer or an architect or a city administrator but, like anyone who has spent time in Venice, I do understand the water traffic and cruise ship problems facing Venice. And, like others who have Venice’s well-being at heart, I'm pleased that the government is, at last, taking steps to find a real solution to this problem. 

My only hope is that, given these male minore or lesser of evils choices, we don’t harm Venice more than help her.

What are your thoughts?

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