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Port plans may hasten Venice sinking
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09:28, September 08, 2009

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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, a conservation group said yesterday.

Venice in Peril, a British fund that works to preserve Venice, said 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 harbors.

The Venice port authority confirmed it had written the report, but insisted the works will respect the environment and are necessary to deal with the growing flow of tourists and goods.

The report drawn up for the Italian Senate outlines ongoing and future works 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 euro 260 million ($370 million) to dredge inlets and navigation channels to allow the passage of ships of up to 400 meters in length.

This is particularly concerning for 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.

"The fact that big ships have access to the lagoon has important consequences for its health," said Jane da Mosto, a researcher for Venice in Peril. "Apart from environmental concerns ... the problem of high tide is accentuated, so it means more flooding for Venice."

Under the combined effect of rising water levels and settling of the land, Venice has sunk 23 centimeters in the last century.

In winter, Venice periodically goes through bouts of "acqua alta" (high water), when strong winds and high tides conspire to push the sea into streets and piazzas.

The port authority report dismisses environmental concerns by declaring them solved thanks to a project - called Moses - to build towering movable barriers designed to rise from the seabed and prevent flooding.

"The problem of the hydraulic equilibrium is solved because it will be manageable through judicious use of the Moses system," the report says.

Not so, some experts said.

The Moses barriers block shipping so they would only be raised when an exceptionally high tide is expected. That would not lower the average sea level and stop the waters from slowly eating away at Venice's bricks and stones, said Luigi D'Alpaos, professor of hydrodynamics at the University of Padua.

"Moses will, at best, manage the acqua alta," he said in a telephone interview. "But the other problems are not at all addressed by the barriers."

Source: China Daily

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