MOSE, the History of a Failure: “an anthology of horrors”

(Editor’s Note: This is a story I wish I didn’t have to post. While Venice is full of painful examples of the misuse of public resources, no one project stands out as so completely egregious as MOSE. The last story I published on this subject had the date of completion projected at 2018. That was earlier this year. Now it stands at 2022, while the project is literally falling apart, doing far more damage than good, and looks to devour public money for the rest of its existence. Read on; this article summarizes the history well – “an anthology of horrors”)

Venice and MOSE, the history of a failure

After scandals and cost overruns, will the sea barrier system be scrapped? Inspections and the reports of experts show that many of the moving bulkheads have been eroded by corrosion and mussels. And the hinges are at risk of cracking.

By Roberto Giovannini

The underwater casings are eroded from corrosion, mold and by the action of (and really who could not have predicted it?) sea life, the humble mussels. The bulkheads that are already in the water cannot rise due to technical problems. Those still to be mounted, waiting on land, are rusting due to the salt air, notwithstanding the special covers; who knows what will happen when they are placed on the sea floor. The history of MOSE (an acronym for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico [Experimental Electromechanical Module in English, ed.]), the system of retractable bulkheads conceived long ago in 1981 to protect in a secure fashion Venice and its inestimable artistic heritage from the high seas that invade the Lagoon from the Adriatic, is truly an anthology of horrors. Instead of costing 1.6 billion Euro, it has already cost 5.5 billion; instead of going in to service in 2011, if all goes well it will begin working in 2022.

The entire project has been marked by very serious episodes of corruption, sanctioned in a trial which has just concluded and which revealed a frenzied activity of bribery to cover work or plans that were bad in design and even worse in execution. Now we learn that to complete the work, and repair the structures which are already ruined, will require the handsome sum of an additional 700 million, plus at least 105 million per year to guarantee function and maintenance, money which no one knows should be paid by whom. But what is even more paradoxical, notwithstanding the crazy expense, is that once it is working the system of 78 mobile bulkheads will close the door to extremely high seas, from 110 centimeters to three meters. However it will do nothing to limit the damage when “medium-high waters” arrive, those between 80 and 100 centimeters, which are far more common.

In reality, say experts, since the beginning it was known that this “jewel of national engineering” was thought of for handling extreme situations, such as the 194 centimeters of the tremendous flood of 4 November 1966. The system of retractable bulkheads, positioned at the so-called “mouths of the port” (the openings that connect the Lagoon with the open sea, across which flow the sea tides) of Lido, San Nicolò, Malamocco and Chioggia, will be able to temporarily isolate the Lagoon of Venice from the Adriatic sea, rising within five hours.

But in the area of Piazza San Marco all it takes is a slightly heavy rain – as on 11 September – to flood everything. For its part, the New Venice Consortium, the body – now a Commission – that manages the construction of MOSE, has proposed a very costly plan for the complete isolation of Piazza San Marco and the Basilica, with the use of an enormous sheath. However the Piazza will shortly be made secure up to 110 centimeters of high water with a project that costs only 2 million Euro. This will include special rubber and metal “stops” in the Basilica to block the entrance of the water from underneath, and raising the paving blocks of the Piazza.

In sum, giant projects don’t always pay. And what is worse is that according to an analysis commissioned by the Administration of Public Works of Venice, the working branch of the Minister of Infrastructure, MOSE risks structural failures due to electrochemical corrosion caused by the marine environment and due to the use of different steel than that which was originally tested. The hinges that connect the bulkheads to the cement base – there are 156, each one weighing 36 tons, a 250 million Euro contract awarded without bid to Gruppo Mantovani – are at extremely high risk (a probability of 66 to 99%) of already being unusable.

An inspection has shown that the MOSE hinges, underwater for three and half years, are already in an advanced state of corrosion. Tests in recent months showed bulkheads that will not rise, others that cannot retract due to the accumulation of sediment, problems with the tubing, and an exploded casing on the sea bed at Chioggia. A special boat (cost, 52 million) for transporting the bulkheads for maintenance to the work area at Arsenale failed its first attempt at lifting one of the barriers. Finally, a study by CNR, which has updated the map of the Lagoon bed, other than discovering on these beds tires, household appliances, remains of boats and even containers, warns that the structures already put in place by MOSE have generated a worrisome erosion of the Lagoon bed. Public works, especially those aimed at protecting our lands (mainly from the risks of climate change) are fundamental. But MOSE is a symbol of what should not be done.

Source, La Stampa, 11 Oct. 2017

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