Archive for Canale dei Petroli

This is one view of what a lagoon looks like, especially when the tide is going out and the clams are just waking up.

This is one view of what a lagoon looks like, especially when the tide is going out and the clams are just waking up.

This is an unusual step for me, but I think it’s worth it.  Even though I don’t place much trust in the power of petitions, maybe this time it will be different.

In any case, I’d like to inform you of one which has gone from 700 to 20,000 signatures and counting in about ten days.  I think that means something.

“Gruppo 25 aprile” is a new group of Venetians and Venice-lovers which is concentrating its efforts on stopping the digging of the “Canale Contorta.”  Its reasons are shared by many scientific and environmental experts, not to mention a huge percentage of everyday Venetians.

Once the subject of the big cruise ships and their potential to damage Venice became one of the hottest debates and power struggles of the year, the need for finding an alternate route from the Adriatic to Venice obviously became paramount.  My own opinion is that any “cure” they find will be worse than the “disease” (i.e., the ships in the Bacino of San Marco) — or, as the Venetians put it, el tacon xe pezo del buso (the patch is worse than the hole).

Many solutions have been proposed, but only one had the political muscle behind it to get itself officially considered by the “Comitatone” (“Big Committee”) in Rome, which had the power to decide yes or no.  That “solution” is the dredging of the Canale Contorta.

Sorry it's in Italian.  The red line shows the current route by which cruise ships enter and leave Venice.  (www.corriere.it).

Sorry it’s in Italian. The red line shows the current route by which cruise ships enter and leave Venice.   The solid yellow line is the Petroleum Canal.  The dotted yellow line is the Canale Contorta, which already exists in a simple, primitive, shallow way.  Changing that will change a whole lot besides.  (www.corriere.it).

Thanks to a calculated maneuver by its promoters, the meeting at which the decision was to be made was held in August.  (“August” is Italian for “vacation.”)

As Marco Gasparinetti, the coordinator of Gruppo 25 aprile, explains (translated by me from the Gazzettino):

“The decision of the Comitatone on August 8 was a summer blitz with which they hoped to surprise a city on vacation.  But the city is fed up with being expropriated from the decisions which concern it, and this time is going to make its voice heard.”

The political vacuum in Venice since the government fell on June 4 has at least one positive aspect, and that is that finally there seems to be some possibility that the voices of Venetians might be heard somewhere beyond their living rooms and favorite bars.  Yes, there is chaos in almost every aspect of daily life here now, but the fact that essentially only one man is in charge — Vittorio Zappalorto, the Commissario who is temporary governor — means that the city is less strangled by the political and bureaucratic tentacles of the past 20 years.  It’s as if — to try another metaphor — a colossal dose of drain cleaner has ripped through the city’s emotional and civic pipes.

Back to the Canale Contorta.  It may not be too late to stop it.  Therefore Gruppo 25 aprile has created a petition addressed to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, as well as all the ministers concerned (Environment, Infrastructure and Transport, Culture, etc.) urging them to withdraw the hasty approval of what it (and I) regard as a catastrophic move, the last nail in the coffin of the lagoon after the drastic effects of the MOSE floodgates, not to mention the Canale dei Petroli (“Petroleum Canal”), dug in 1969.

A drawing from the 1980's shows the network of canals, or "ghebi," in the lagoon.  In 2002, a NASA satelite shows the same area, pretty much leveled and smoothed out by the terrific suction of the Petroleum Canal over the years.

A drawing from the 1980’s shows the network of canals, or “ghebi,” in the lagoon. In 2002, a NASA satelite shows the same area, pretty much leveled and smoothed out by the terrific suction of the Petroleum Canal over the years. (Umberto Sartory, 6/29/2006, venicexplorer.net).

The page connected to the link above shows a map (left) from the 1980’s which outlines the major and some minor natural channels (ghebi) which used to cross and re-cross the lagoon.  It represents a complex biological realm which the effects caused by the Canale dei Petroli, in 40 years, has done much to destroy, as shown by the NASA satellite image made in 2002 (right).  Do you see ghebi?  I see just a broad, anonymous stretch of bottom.  That’s what the fish see, too.

Lagoons are rich, meaty environments.  The sea is also nice, but not like this.  I believe the difference is easy to see.

Lagoons are rich, meaty environments. The sea is also nice, but not like this. I believe the difference is easy to see.

Here is a section of a brief but pointed piece by Tom Spencer, reader in coastal ecology and geomorphology at the University of Cambridge, and director of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit:

Coastal lagoons are transitional environments between fully terrestrial and fully marine conditions; in the absence of direct human intervention, their long-term tendency is to infill with sediments. Over the centuries, the Venetian Republic was instrumental in maintaining this vital yet delicate land/sea balance, starting with the huge undertaking to divert the main rivers in the 16th century and stop the region from silting up altogether.

Since that time, however, historical and near contemporary records of changing patterns of lagoonal topography and water depth; tidal currents; and sediment transport from the lagoon to the sea all show unequivocally that the current lagoon is moving in the opposite direction, becoming a downward-eroding, sediment-exporting system. It is thus on a trajectory that will turn it into a fully marine bay. That this process is well underway is evidenced by the appearance of plant and animal species in the lagoon that are characteristic of marine environments.

We may argue about the velocity of this trajectory but the evidence for such a trend, clearly related to a whole series of human interventions from the late 18th century to the present, is not in doubt. As wave height and tidal flows are strongly influenced by water depth, such a shift has critical importance for the sustainability of the historic core of Venice itself. If we drill down into the detail behind this general trend, it is clear that the excavation of two large canals (Canale Vittorio Emanuele, around 1925, and Canale Malamocco Marghera, around 1969) produced strong transversal currents across the original tidal network, with consequent siltation of channels and erosion of adjacent shallows.

There is one simple question that needs to be answered. Can we be assured that the large-scale excavation of the Canale Contorta will not have the same effect and not give the Venice lagoon a further shove in the direction of yet more environmental degradation and urban vulnerability?

The petition asks the national government to reconsider all the proposals.  That seems like an extremely modest request.

The petition can be signed online.  Here is the link explaining their position, with the possibility of signing.  (“Firma” means “signature.”)

Or, you can copy and paste:

http://www.change.org/p/stop-the-plan-to-dredge-the-maxi-canal-contorta-in-venice-before-it-s-too-late

If anyone might be tempted to suppose that Venice can be happy and healthy in the middle of a maimed and deformed lagoon, that person should consider this: That the water through the Canale Contorta will enter or leave the lagoon with a force and a quantity that will endanger the city to a degree that the biggest cruise ship could never dream of.

The lagoon is loaded with egrets, who might like to be considered in the great scheme of things.

The lagoon is loaded with egrets who might like to be considered in the great scheme of things.

 

Categories : Water
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The Piazza is big, but it's not THAT big.  I still don't grasp how 80,000 people got in there.  Or got out.

The Piazza is big, but it’s not THAT big. I still don’t grasp how 80,000 people got in there. Or got out.

Probably nobody is thinking about New Year’s Eve anymore, no matter where they spent it. But here in Venice it’s not over yet, as the papers continue to publish a cascade of ever-more-detailed articles, personal stories, and editorials on how things went.

In a word: Badly.

So I’m going to back up from my earlier post and try this report again.  Because in case you don’t know, the three most beautiful words in the English language are not “I love you” (though they’re not the worst, either).

Nope.  The three MOST beautiful words are “You were right.”  And in my case, its close cousin: “I was wrong.”

I admit that I felt uneasy writing that sunny little post about New Year’s Eve.  Even as I wrote it, I had the strange feeling that I was unaccountably speaking in some unknown language from the planet where life is beautiful all the time.

I must have inadvertently disconnected my internal smoke-detector, because the news is demonstrating, in ever more lurid detail, why I will never go near the Piazza San Marco on the night of Saint Sylvester.  And how inexplicably incapable the city is of organizing big events in some reasonable manner.  And when I refer to the organization of big events, I have some small experience elsewhere; for example, the Fiesta of San Fermin at Pamplona, which I have attended twice. And I’d go back again, no matter how much I hate crowds, and one of many reasons is because it is organized and maintained in the most dazzlingly intelligent and diligent manner for nine solid days and nights.  And a mere twelve hours drives Venice to its knees.

From 9:30 PM, rivers of young people arriving by train filled the streets heading toward the Piazza, smashing bottles and setting off firecrackers as they went.

Far from being a scene of frolic and light-hearted conviviality, as the night dragged on the Piazza San Marco (and Piazzale Roma, whence thousands tried eventually to depart the most beautiful city in the world) resembled a war zone, or a frat party of intercontinental dimensions.  Words such as “assault,” “devastation,” and “outrage” highlight the reports of the night, and the morning after.

Piles of shattered glass bottles and pools of biological fluids from either or both ends of homo stupidus prostratus were only some of the abundant remains.  There were also the bodies of comatose sleeping revelers scattered around the streets, lying where they fell when the fumes ran out.

People are fascinated by the damage water can do to the Piazza, but somehow the maxi-posters and the maxi-mobs have slowly come to seem normal.  The water is normal, too, and has been normal for longer than there's been a city here.

People are obsessed by the damage that water can do to the Piazza, but somehow the maxi-posters and the maxi-mobs have come to seem normal.  So millions have been spent to control the water, but virtually nothing to resolve what in fact should be much easier to deal with.  I don’t get it.

The story in figures:

80,000 partyers, 10,000 more than the past two years.  Most of the yobbos weren’t Venetian, but from everywhere else — what in New York are called “bridge and tunnel” people.  I’ve seen them there at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and it’s not lovely. It’s no lovelier here.

50 interventions by the 45 emergency medical personnel from the Green Cross, Civil Protection, and SUEM, the ambulance entity; most crises related to alcohol drunk, alcohol spilled (rendering the already wet pavement dangerously slippery), cuts by the broken glass of bottles blindly hurled into the air, blows to the head, and panic attacks caused by the mob and the explosions of firecrackers at close quarters.

100,000 euros ($135,868) the estimated cost to the city, excluding fireworks.  This approximate number comprises: 60,000 euros for the collection and removal of 135 cubic meters  (4,732 cubic feet)of garbage, of which 20 cubic meters (706 cubic feet) were of glass; 15,000 euros for the 60 Municipal Police agents on security duty.  And the cost, not yet quantified, of the extra transport personnel (50 bus drivers and an unspecified number of vaporetto pilots). And the fuel required by the 20 garbage barges.

60 extra buses coming into Venice from the mainland; 123 extra buses between midnight and 7:00 AM from Venice to the mainland.  Does this sound like a lot?  Au contraire; the ACTV, in its wisdom, put on extra vaporettos, which worked well, but reduced the basic number of bus runs on a holiday eve.  Because it’s, you  know, a holiday, and the drivers want to be at home. New Year’s Eve in Venice, with reduced bus service.  Explain this to the masses of tired, cold, exasperated people who were trying to get back home, who even overwhelmed the relatively few taxis in Piazzale Roma.  Explain it to anybody, if you can. And I still can’t figure out how 50 extra bus drivers were sent to work if there were fewer buses.  Or were they put to work scrolling the “Out of service” sign onto the buses’ forefronts?

 The story in voices:

“It was hard, if not impossible, to move.  Funky air, a mix of piss and drugs, the pavement “mined” with bottles, cans, and every sort of garbage…The Piazza was a disaster.  Electronic music at full volume incited the crowd that was already drunk and out of control.  A great number of young people had taken over, armed with every type of alcohol…the center of the Piazza was an inferno.  Not just fireworks, but young people, Italian and foreign, were competing in a new entertainment: the launching of bottles…I didn’t see any security agents that would have forbidden this behavior…The day after, the marks remained on our city, heritage of humanity, devastated by barbarism.”  (Margherita Gasco)

“According to a recent international survey, the night between the last and first of the year shows Venice to be among the principal capitals of the festivities on the planet.  This shouldn’t prevent us from … reflecting critically on how these events are carried out — if they’re worth the trouble, if they still have their original sense.” (Gianfranco Bettin, the assessore for the Environment).

“Such a high number of people wasn’t predicted, nor predictable,” said Angela Vettese, the assessore of Culture and Tourism Development.  (It wasn’t predictable? Does she not read tourism surveys?). “In the future, more prudence is necessary to protect the Piazza, and to invest in more surveillance, so that the police can check, count, and keep access to the Piazza within a determined limit. Furthermore, it’s necessary to organize only high-quality events, with spectacles that involve the public (more involved than they already were?), maintaining greater tranquillity.”  She’s still new on the job, or she wouldn’t be talking like that; all these things have been said before, and before, and even before that.

A tranquil morning in late October.

A tranquil morning in late October.

Social network comments were divided between those who think New Year’s Eve in the Piazza is the greatest thing ever, and those who think the care and protection of the already fragile city is more important; those who insist it was just a normal night of festivity, and those who characterize is as another example of sheer lunacy.

“I urge the church to make itself heard, seeing that the civil authorities don’t feel any special need to safeguard the Piazza San Marco…Can we imagine an event like last Tuesday in the Piazza San Pietro in Rome?”  (Franco Miracco, art historian).

“San Marco can’t be the only stage for events” (Mons. Antonio Meneguolo, diocese of Venice).  “It’s not the number of people which creates bad behavior,” he said.  “We can increase the security but it would be better to organize other activities elsewhere, and remove the emphasis of the publicity for “New Year’s in the Piazza,” seeing how the event ends up.”

“Venice continues to be seen as a city to exploit touristically down to the bone,” said Lidia Fersuoch, president of Italia Nostra. “More than limit access to the Piazza, it’s necessary to limited access to the city itself, because it’s impossible to contain more than a certain number of visitors.”

“Certainly, if we take as the limit the Pink Floyd concert of 1989, anything even just barely below that is considered tolerable…But hurling bottles, explosion of firecrackers, people who urinate and vomit in the streets, are these part of the normal course of public socializing?  For some people, yes, but for us, no.  Especially if it happens in the Piazza San Marco, which isn’t just any piazza, but a monumental area, as it was defined when concerts were stopped (because they have an excessive impact on the Piazza itself)… But why no to concerts, and yes to New Year’s Eve? We speak of “outrage” precisely because it’s a monumental area; you can’t remain indifferent seeing people climbing up the 16th-century columns of the Loggetta of Sansovino at the feet of the campanile.  The piazza has always been the place for socializing, for events.  But what events?” (Davide Scalzotto)

I think the Piazza looks wonderful like this.  It's not that I'm anti-social, but on days like this it looks peaceful, and clean, and safe.  I don't mean I feel safe, I mean it looks safe from us.

I think the Piazza looks wonderful like this. It’s not that I’m anti-social, but on days like this it looks peaceful, and clean, and safe. I don’t mean I feel safe, I mean it looks safe from us.

Here is what I ask myself and anyone who might be listening:  There is a Superintendency of architecture, of art, of treasures. There is the Polizia di Stato, the carabinieri, the municipal police, the Guardia di Finanza.  There are ordinances forbidding almost every dangerous and tumultuous form of behavior and the hazardous objects associated with them.  Why is there no evident point at which any of these elements meet?  The behavior and objects are at Point A, and any uniformed persons authorized to intervene are at Points Q, X, and Z.  All told, there may have been more garbage collectors than anybody else at work in the Piazza, which seems backwards, to me.

In theory, if there were more agents of public order on duty, there would be less need for the First Aid stations, not to mention the ambulances and garbagemen.

But let me move on to a much more distressing thought.

Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which, unlike many of the 981 sites on their list, is a real place where real people live and move and have their being.  This presents special problems which nobody seems able to anticipate, or resolve. I am at a loss to say why, except that with ten fingers per city councilor, there’s plenty for pointing at other people.

There are 49 UNESCO sites in Italy, more than any other country on earth.  So far, none is marked as being “in danger.”  I think Venice should be.  I cannot conceive of shenanigans such as New Year’s Eve in the Piazza San Marco being tolerated in Angkor, or Machu Picchu, or the Alhambra, or the Red Fort Complex, or the Etruscan Necropolises, or the Potala Palace, or the Galapagos Islands.  And this is not the first time.  And yet, it goes on.

And I’ll say one more thing, as long as I’m on the subject: Of all the “properties” on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, only two, so far, have been de-listed.  The reasons are given on this page of their website.

Between the catastrophes visited upon Venice under the ever-fresh rubber stamp of the Superintendency of Architectural Treasures (the tormented issue of the maxi-posters in the San Marco area has only been moderately resolved, among other things), and the continued abuse of the lagoon, which is also part of the World Heritage designation (from the Canale dei Petroli to MoSE and now to the imminent approval of the digging of the Contorta canal), I don’t think it’s inconceivable that eventually Venice could see itself de-listed from the UNESCO panoply.

This is not the most improbable scenario I’ve ever come up with.  Except that I’d love to be able to say “I was wrong.”

Categories : Venetian Problems
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Jan
27

Venice and the floating Alps

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The catastrophe of the Costa Concordia two weeks ago today has been a good thing in at least one (sorry, I mean only one) way: It has given a turbo-boost to the local opposition to allowing big cruise ships to slide past the Piazza San Marco like floating Alps.

By now, images of these behemoths and Venice have become as trite as Venice and acqua alta.

Just one example at random of a typical big ship coming to Venice. The top deck is lined with thousands of people, all making the same photograph of the Piazza San Marco. As far as I can tell, this is the main reason why the big ships insist on entering and leaving Venice by the Bacino of San Marco.

There was murmuring before, but the death of a ship and some of its people has created a good deal of commotion, not only in Venice but also at the national level, concerning the desirability of allowing these ships to come here. Needless to say, the political parties have all hoisted their shields and battle-axes and are ready for combat.  And, as usual, the trumpet sounding the charge tends to drown out any other sound.

I’d like to review the main points, though I have to warn you that this subject, like most other subjects here, has become a mass of insanely knotted statistics and semi-statistics and facts and semi-facts interpreted in 11,552 different ways, according to who is speaking and, ergo. what they want.  Debates of the pros and cons of heavy cruise ship traffic in the world’s most beautiful city and environs are so loaded with emotion that it has become virtually impossible to hear what anybody’s really saying, though the various viewpoints are fairly simple to summarize.

Cruise statistics for 2011 as published by the Gazzettino.

Pro: There is only one item in the “pro” column on the proverbial yellow legal pad, and that’s “Money.”  Venice has done everything possible to attract and keep cruise business.  In 2000, only 200 ships visited Venice, and it is now the Number One cruising homeport in the Mediterranean, and the third in Europe. With the shrinking of the income from the Casino, the starving city budget is being kept alive primarily by this new touristic medium.

Don’t be distracted by the number of companies whose ships come to Venice (43), or how many ships visited last year (654) or the number of transits they made of the Bacino of San Marco (1,308) — I’d have thought there were more — or the number of passengers last year (2,248,453), even though all these numbers are pretty impressive (fancy way of saying “huge and scary”).

The only number that matters to the city, and the only factor which virtually guarantees that cruising will continue to be crucial here, is the money the city earns from it: 300 million euros (US$390,246,000) last year.

If you want to object to cruising in or around Venice, you need to come up with a suggestion for some other activity that will make that kind of money.  Or, preferably, even more.  Feel free to get back to me on this.

 

A view of the docks at Tronchetto. As you see, seven assorted ships can fit in here at any one time, though these is space for smaller ones (yes, there are smaller ones) at the Zona Marittima nearby -- three are moored there in this picture, just to the right of the big docks. Discussion is underway to expand the dock area.

Con:  The conscientious objectors to cruising offer many urgent reasons why it is deleterious to the city. These reasons are more or less persuasive, depending on how deeply their proponents have managed to bury their ulterior motives.

The two main items in the “con” column concern the environmental damage wrought by the floating Alps.

They are:

Erosion caused by waves (there are no waves) and/or by the suction of the motors.  This suction is real: I can attest that the motors of these ships perform a phenomenal sucking/pushing action, very much like what happens to the mouthwash when you rinse your mouth.  I have seen with these very eyes the waters surging in and then surging out as a ship passes, even if it passes at a distance.  It’s hard to think that this could be unimportant.  As we know from the humbler but more destructive daily motondoso, water going into a fissure in a foundation pulls something with it — soil, mainly — when it comes out.  This eventually creates empty spaces under buildings and sidewalks.

Ships maneuvering to enter or back out of their berths also create massive suction, as the brown sediment churned up here attests.

A study done by Worcester Polytechnic Institute on the hydrodynamic effect of big ships found this:  “As cruise ships pass smaller canals along the St. Mark’s Basin and Giudecca Canal, they displace and accelerate the surrounding body of water, essentially pulling water from the smaller canals.  This caused a noticeable increase in canal speed and a drop in the water levels.  A total of five velocity tests were completed resulting in a 57.4% increase in canal speed, and two canal height tests were completed which showed an average water level drop of 11 c (4.3 inches).  The observations suggest that the root cause for these accelerations can be explained by the Bernoulli Effect: the colossal geometry of cruise ships creates fast currents and low pressure areas around the moving vessels.”

Particulate Matter, the form of air pollution made up of tiny bits of stuff from combustion exhaust.  Nobody made an issue of this when Venice was a real industrial center, and nobody brought it up when the Industrial Zone on the shoreline was going full blast.  Nobody made an issue of it, Lino points out, when everybody — everybody — heated their homes or cooked using wood or coal.  “You didn’t need to smoke anything,” he said — “smoke was everywhere.”  But particulate matter from the ships is intolerable.

The view of the Giudecca Canal as seen by the passengers on a departing ship. I'm on a Minoan Lines ferry to Greece. If a ship were to go rogue here it could endanger city on both sides.

Four days after the Concordia ran aground, Corrado Clini, the new Minister for the Environment, came to Venice for a day.  He was shown a number of things (MoSE was not on the list, which I can understand, because nothing can be done about it now), but the subject on everybody’s mind was the big ships.

He offered the following opinion: “Common sense suggests that if the principle value to care for is our natural patrimony, the fundamental resource for our tourism, we must avoid that it be put at risk.”  You can’t argue with that.

He continued: “The traffic of these ‘floating apartment buildings’ in the Bacino of San Marco, with a notable impact, are without utility for the environment and for tourism.”  If he is seeking utility for tourism, all he has to do is look at the municipal balance sheet.  However, “without utility for the environment” is hard to refute.

Luca Zaia, the President of the Veneto Region, who was on hand, remarked that “The big ships in Venice are dangerous and certainly a problem to resolve.  I have to admit that to see these colossi at San Marco is, to say the least, horrifying.”  I myself have to admit that it’s odd that he only became horrified after the Concordia ran aground; the ships have been passing for years.

Giorgio Orsoni, the mayor of Venice, contributed these observations: “The subject of the big ships is an open one.  With the Port Authority we have begun to reflect on a rapid solution which will satisfy the touristic system as well as the economic one.” Rapid solutions are not easy to come up with, because every player wants his concerns to come first.  Nor would a rapid solution instill much confidence.  If complex, well-reasoned solutions haven’t been found yet, why would a rapid one be any easier to devise, much less implement?

Sandro Trevisanato, president of VTP, which runs the port, stated that the big ships are the least polluting form of tourism, adding that the buses, the big launches, and cars create much more pollution than the big ships.  (For the record, I’d like to say that this is the most intelligent comment so far.)  He points out that emissions are one of the arguments used by those who want to ban the cruise ships from the lagoon, far beyond the aesthetic question.  It’s a question of taste,” says Trevisanato. “In a few seconds the ships have passed and disappear.”  Seconds?  Has he never stood on the embankment on a summer Sunday evening to watch the March of the Pachyderms as they depart? Even one ship, by my estimate, takes at least 45 minutes to pass from Tronchetto to Sant’ Elena.  And there could easily be seven of them, virtually nose to tail.

In any case, everybody directly involved in cruise tourism agrees that  pollution must be kept at “level zero.”  How to do that isn’t explained.

As for the possibility — remote, all agree — that something could go wrong with the motors, or that the ship for some other reason would suddenly become ungovernable, and that the force of inertia would impel it to ram bow-first into the Piazza San Marco or some other bit of Venice, Trevisanato says that the port is one of the most secure in the world, as the ships are protected from the effect of wind and waves, and the ships pass at a reasonable (I put that in) distance from the shores.  Hard to say what is “reasonable” when the Giudecca Canal is only 320 meters (1000 feet) wide, or less.  But you will have noticed that referring to wind and waves prevented him from discussing the consequences of a big ship going adrift in the Bacino of San Marco.

Someone reminded him that in 2004 the ship “Mona Lisa” ran aground in the fog in the Bacino of San Marco.  His reply: “Exactly: and nothing happened.”  This is true; the ship was on its way after a mere hour, undoubtedly thanks to the help of the rising tide.  But the “Mona Lisa” is 201 meters (609 feet) long by 26 meters (85 feet) beam, and a gross tonnage of 28,891; not exactly a floating Alp.

The Concordia was 292 meters (958 feet)  x 35.5 meters (116 feet); gross tonnage 112,000.

In any case, saying “Nothing happened” isn’t very  helpful. It brings to mind the famous exchange in a Ring Lardner story: “‘Daddy, are we lost?’  ‘Shut up,’ he explained.”

The "Mona Lisa." This is what most cruise ships used to look like, before they put them on steroids.

And the mayor’s statement that a “rapid solution” is in the works isn’t very reassuring, even if it were true.  Solutions have been debated for years.

Proposed solutions so far:

Building an “offshore port” in the Adriatic where the floating Alps would tie up, and offload passengers (and luggage) into launches which would bring them to Venice.  Objections: Cost, feasibility, and the obvious pollution, primarily motondoso, which would be caused by thousands of launches trundling to and fro all day.  I can add the element of potential danger to people, if not to Venice, of boarding and traveling in a launch when the bora is blowing.

Make the Bacino and the Giudecca Canal a one-way street.  Tourists get to snap the Piazza San Marco either coming or going, but not both.  This has the advantage of not depriving them totally of this scenic opportunity, while cutting in half the number of transits.  A tour operator told me that it isn’t uncommon for a potential cruise customer to ask if the ship passes in front of the Piazza San Marco.  If the answer is no, it’s an immediate deal-breaker.

Bring the ships into the lagoon via the inlet at Malamocco. Heavy shipping already passes here, heading for the docks at Marghera, so more heavy ships wouldn't make any difference. Theoretically.


But this new system would require deepening a heretofore unimportant natural channel known as the Canal of Sant’ Angelo in order to create a sort of bypass. Enter the lagoon at the inlet at Malamocco, steam up the shoreline via the Petroleum Canal, then turn right in the Canal of Sant’ Angelo, which neatly brings the behemoth to Tronchetto.  The ship would depart via the Giudecca Canal, so the passengers could all snap their photos.

Or, the ship would enter, as it does now, by the inlet at San Nicolo’, steam past San Marco (snap snap snap) to Tronchetto, then depart down the Canal of Sant’ Angelo, Petroleum Canal, and out into the Adriatic at Malamocco.

Sometimes a big ship moors downstream from San Marco at the Riva dei Sette Martiri. It might seem like a bright idea to put them all here, except that the passengers wouldn't get their snaps; also, there isn't enough shoreline for the typical job lot on a summer weekend. And there is also the issue of the vibrations from the generators and the blocking of television reception which are major irritations for the residents. Who would want to spend the summer with these just outside the front door?

What’s extremely wrong with this idea — in my opinion, as well as many environmentalists — is that deepening the Canal of Sant’ Angelo would be a reprise of the digging of the Petroleum Canal, a deed which many have long since recognized as a disaster for the lagoon. A channel as straight as an airport runway and deep enough for cargo ships and tankers behaves like the average water faucet, concentrating and accelerating the force of the water passing through it. Many environmental groups date the beginning of the deterioration of the lagoon ecosystem from the creation of the Petroleum Canal.  Among other things, it is estimated that this canal is responsible for the loss of one million cubic meters of sediment every year. We don’t have to care, but the myriad creatures and plants which depend on the sediment certainly do.

Digging another deep channel will almost certainly cause the same phenomenon, thereby multiplying the damage.  Just what we need, when you add in the same effect caused by the deepening of the three lagoon inlets for the installation of the MoSE floodgates.

So the bypass canal, which looks so good on paper, would be yet another blow to an ecosystem which UNESCO, along with the city of Venice, designated as a World Heritage Site.  Now that I think of it, the only group that hasn’t weighed in yet on this is UNESCO. Maybe they’re thinking.

Last idea: Forget Tronchetto. Move the whole passenger port over to the shoreline at Marghera.  Docks already exist, or could be created, so logistically the idea has a lot in its favor. Except that Marghera is part of the dying Industrial Zone, with all the aesthetic appeal of a dying Industrial Zone.  It’s like selling a cruise from Venice that actually starts in the Port of Newark or Liverpool. Intending no offense.

Speaking of the force of inertia, debates, meetings, commissions, studies (oh good, we can always use more of those) and assorted pronouncements will undoubtedly continue.  I can make that claim because when the “Mona Lisa” ran aground in 2004, the then-mayor, Paolo Costa, ringingly declared that a stop must be put to the  big ships passing in the Bacino of San Marco.

He said (translation by me): “What happened has unfortunately confirmed my worries, and that is that an absolute certainty doesn’t exist on the possibility to guarantee the security in this zone of the city (Bacino San Marco) which is so important and delicate. It was horrifying to see the ship aground a mere 30 meters from a vaporetto stop, and fortunately consequences were avoided that could have been disastrous and unimaginable.  Now we must take rapid measures, more than one, and very detailed, that eliminate the danger of finding, one day, a ship in the Piazza San Marco. Because everything which today is at risk in the Bacino of San Marco isn’t something that can be protected only probably, but certainly, and with safety.”

Eight years have passed, two mayors have succeeded him, Costa is now President of the Port of Venice, and those “rapid measures” are still being fervently invoked.

The Port of Venice may be protected from potentially dangerous winds, but there seems to be no way to protect it from hurricanes of hot air.

A big ship leaving Venice. These proportions once shocked and dismayed me. But you can get used to almost anything.

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Categories : MOSE, Motondoso, Tourism
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