The fight over sludge: open conflict over the future of the Lagoon of Venice

Ministry inspectors visit the Port Authority to seize documents regarding projects for new excavation. Boato: “We say no to sandbars made with polluted sediment”

By Alberto Vitucci

29 Aprile 2019

VENEZIA. Inspectors from the Ministry of Environment have visited the Port Authority. They came several weeks ago, and took papers and documentation relative to the excavation and dragging of the port canals, in particular the widening project for the canale dei Petroli. This new action is aimed at clarifying the “movement” of sediment in the lagoon. There is another investigation being done by NOE, the carabinieri del Nucleo Ecologico, looking at the excavation and the reconstruction of the sandbars.

It is not only a question of micrograms. Or of costs that could multiply, depending on the type of materials, by even a hundred times. Through the definition of the properties of the sediment – and of the new protocol for sludge, in discussion at the ministries – passes the politics of the care and development of the lagoon. There are two quite distinct visions of the shape of the lagoon of the future.

“They want to modify the parameters defining sludge so that they can authorize new excavations in the port canals for ever larger ships”, accuses environmentalist Stefano Boato, former consultant to the ministry and member of Italia Nostra, “and then use these materials to build fake sandbars by depositing the sludge in a costly manner in absurd locations. Such as the five mega sandbars between Murano and Vignole and those at Colmata B, a natural oasis. According to the Special Law and Palav, as well as specified by the Morphological Plan of 1993, which is still in force, the restoration of the lagoon required reducing the depth of the port canals. The production of new organic material is done instead by bringing more fresh unpolluted water into the lagoon, encouraging the growth of reeds, and bringing unpolluted sediment from verified marine sources. The sediment excavated from the port canals is polluted, and can never be used for artificial sandbars”.

No to sandbars built with the available sludge, therefore. This is the idea supported instead by the Provveditorato and Consorzio, who await the final approval of the new memorandum of understanding regarding sediment in the lagoon. Taking note of the new parameters for the classification of sludge, one would save millions of Euro in the movement of the sediment and its treatment in unloading. And as for the planned purchase of the materials to build sandbars, these are projects, according to the Consorzio, that are called for by the “Europa Plan”.

A bitter battle is underway. “They are certainly not softer parameters, but a different method of classification that takes account of the new European regulations”, said Pierfranceso Getti, a consultant for Consorzio and author of the report. Antonio Marcomini, professor at Ca’ Foscari, defines the material excavated from the canal floors as “a resource to recover”. The proposal of a new agreement is now at the Ministry of the Environment, awaiting approval. “I believe the technicians have a serious job”, said Francesco Baruffi, secretary of the Authority of the Bacino of Veneto, “we have worked in collaboration with Ispra and with other scholars, and have obtained a significant convergence. What is new is that pollutants are being evaluated, also studying the ecological accumulation of the substance. We will need to put a monitoring system in place, and evaluate based on what happens. And we have the European Union watching us. We certainly can’t write just any numbers on these studies”.

On one part the environmentalist line, against a new “classification” of the sludge that could lead to new unnecessary large projects in the lagoon. The scholars offer their proposals. And on the other side, the cruise ship industry and the businesses of the port that are pushing for the change. “Mobility” in the lagoon goes together with traffic of boats both large and small that is increasingly impacting the sandbars and the shallow waters. It is the eternal conflict between economy and environment that for the lagoon has yet to find a healthy balance. Meanwhile, everything is at a standstill, awaiting the new agreement on sediment and the Plan for the new sandbars and new excavations. But we are also waiting for alternatives to the cruise ships entering the lagoon. It’s being studied, but remains far off.

Source: La Nuova Venezia

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