MoSE Saved Venice, but Bribery and Theft are to Blame for the Delays, not Environmentalists

Venice was saved from the acqua alta, that is a fact. However, we can’t let down our guard in the face of sea level rise and the need to defend the lagoon

By Alberto Vitucci

24 November 2022

[Ed. Note: In the days following the avoided acqua granda on Tuesday there has been a steady chorus of “triumphalist” jeering at opponents and critics of MoSE, ridiculing them as though they all simply said it would never work – which nobody ever said. The fact that MoSE works does not simply erase all of its problems or the uncertainties about its (and the lagoon’s) future. The following article is a journalist’s reply to those who, as always, seek to demonize any and all opponents as a simplistic ‘party of no’.]

MoSE saved Venice. It’s true. The mobile dams were raised and worked on a day that could have been a repeat of the tragedy of the Acqua Granda of 2019. The city remained dry. And MoSE, though not yet finished and inspected, was certainly field tested. It will have to do its work again in the days to come. Climate changes, which for the “party of doing” were an invention of the environmentalists, are already here. Extreme weather events keep coming and the future is worrying. Moderately high sea levels keep getting more frequent and defenses against the sea rising must be rethought. Because, as we saw in the last few days, the entire coast of the Upper Adriatic is also at risk of flooding.

MoSE worked, that’s a fact. But this doesn’t erase all the delays, theft, mistakes, and ballooning costs, as its most vocal supporters would have it. A brand-new work that has cost (to date) six and a half billion euros had to work. But now it must be completed, and maintenance, overlooked for too long, must become a priority.

We must not forget the context. The lagoon is being destroyed by excavation of canals, by mistaken interventions and by increasingly strong currents. Natural defenses have been wiped out. Thus we can add these now eliminated natural defenses to the problem of rising sea levels caused by global warming. Water enters the lagoon like a river, even when not at very high levels like those on Tuesday. We must recover that systematic culture that in the first Special Law of 1973 foresaw interventions of rebalancing the lagoon and local defenses to keep “the sea at bay”. All of them were cancelled in the last decades in favor of MoSE, which has had to be financed and refinanced.

If MoSE was not yet active in November 2019 and we only are beginning to see it work now, it is certainly not the fault of the environmentalists or of those who would have preferred other solutions for defending Venice and its lagoon. It is the theft, the cost overruns, the price that has quadrupled compared to the original project, and the bribery that resulted in the scandal of 2014 that have caused another five years of work stoppage. The errors and imprecise designs are the result of a monopoly and inadequate controls. While MoSE did work – and we all hope that it continues to do so in the coming years – we certainly cannot now accuse those who have criticized it as having lifted the veil of silence, nor those who have exposed the errors and shortcomings, nor those who discovered a system of corruption among the largest ever in Italy.

Now the engineers call it “the boast of Italian engineering”. Mayor Brugnaro is rightly satisfied that the city avoided another tragedy like that of three years ago. “We know how to do engineering”, he said, “the problems and the theft of MoSE were caused by the fact that the financing arrived in installments. Corruption proliferates in uncertainty. Large works should be financed and done quickly, as was done with the Morandi bridge”.

However, the forty-year history of MoSE is different. The project was born in 1981 and entrusted to Consorzio Venezia Nuova as the sole contractor with the second Special Law in 1984. It was presented as the Rea project in 1988, with the first MoSE (Experimental Electro-mechanical Module System) inaugurated at Treporti. It took another 34 years to move it forward, and now, one hopes, to see it completed. Here too, these delays and postponements are hard to blame on the critics of the work. There have been hundreds of collaborators and consultants, engineers, state officials and inspectors mobilized and paid to promote MoSE. Now it works, even though it still has many problems to be resolved. For example, the maintenance of its underwater mechanisms, which are supposed to last for a hundred years, or its resilience in cases of high winds and exceptional tides. Chinese engineer Chang Mei said this, and engineer Vincenzo Di Tella has repeated it for years.

Tuesday was an important test. Even though, Di Tella, data in hand, says “the winds at the CNR platform on Lido were blowing in the opposite direction to the waves”. In short, there is still much to do, with seriousness, controls, and no triumphalism. We need to make the best technology available to the city, authorities that are super partes, and people with skills who know what a dam is but also know how a lagoon works.

This battle was won, but the campaign to save Venice and the lagoon from the waters will be long and demanding.

Source: La Nuova di Venezia e Mestre

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