Archive for World Wildlife Fund

Last Thursday -- two days ago -- the announcement at the newsstand read: "ACTV 200 employees at the polling places vaporettos and buses at risk."  This translates as: We were polite enough to warn you in time, so you could make other plans for getting around on Sunday.  Like buying a boat or helicopter.

Last Thursday — two days ago — the announcement at the newsstand read: “ACTV 200 employees at the polling places vaporettos and buses at risk.” This translates as: We were polite enough to warn you in time, so you could make other plans for getting around on Sunday. Like buying a boat or helicopter.

As all the world knows — or that part of the world that reads this blog  — the ACTV, or Azienda del Consorzio Trasporti Veneziano, is the local public transport company.  When it’s in the mood.

The ACTV is an apex predator, which means it can do anything it wants.  Strike?  Bring it on.  Send boats to the shop for repairs on a holiday weekend?  You bet.  Raise ticket prices again?  Great idea.  Do we regret any possible inconvenience?  With all our hearts.

People in other human settlements might regard public transport as a public service.  The administrators of the ACTV seem to regard transport as a favor, an onerous, tiresome, inconvenient and irritating sort of favor they’re compelled to grant the traveling public, like having to take your mother-in-law to the gynecologist on Saturday morning because you promised five months ago.

I can almost hear the murmuring soundtrack in the administrators’ brains.  It says: “If only we didn’t have to haul all those people around every day, and repair boats, and go out in unpleasant weather, running a transport company could be so much fun.  But no.”

I bring all this up not because two days ago the Gazzettino reported that two ticket-sellers have been fired for having recycled vaporetto tickets, pocketing large amounts of free money.  That is a non-story because there will always be more.  I say this because there always are more.

No, I bring it up because this weekend is election time all over Europe, in which the citizens of the EU are voting for their representatives in the European Parliament.  Sunday will be election day in Italy.  Yes, Italians vote on Sunday.

And who will be working the polling places?  Employees of the ACTV.  Why does this matter?  Because  bus and vaporetto service on Sunday is almost certainly going to be curtailed for lack of drivers, ticket-sellers, and so forth.  The agency is alerting us to this already.

Sunday, you may recall, is a peak day for day-tripping tourists, especially when the weather is sunny, which it is expected to be.  Just another example of how thoughtless people are regarding the ACTV’s convenience, to want to come to Venice on a Sunday.

Here is how the long-suffering officers of the ACTV phrase it, on the company’s website (translated by me):

“…seeing the experience of the past years…we estimate that an increased and unpredictable number of employees could be called to serve at the polling places… in past years, the phenomenon was so pronounced as to oblige the company to suppress some runs, whether of boats or of buses.

“Therefore the same risk may be run this year, and given the unpredictability of the absences, the possibility can’t be excluded that the agency could be constrained to apply reductions of service (vaporetto and bus) without being able to indicate in advance the lines or the precise runs that could be involved.”

I dwell with incredulous eyes on the lavish phrases of warning and exculpation.  Why are the absences unpredictable?  Why would the agency be constrained to limit service?  Do they not have enough employees to go around?  Why can’t you indicate in advance the lines and times that could be involved?  And why, now that I’m busy asking questions, can’t you prepared to call in replacements?  This election was scheduled months ago. It’s not like the fog.

If you would like to ask something, you might inquire as to what kind of idea of public service this might be.  It’s the “We can do whatever we want because you have no alternative” idea.

Two vaporettos -- technically, they're called motoscafos -- at the Lido. We might not be getting the one we need on Sunday because of forces far beyond the control of any known human.  At the ACTV.

Two vaporettos — technically, they’re called motoscafos — at the Lido. We might not be getting the one we need on Sunday because of forces far beyond the control of any known human.

And as long as there are questions in the air, you may further ask why ACTV employees have been given this assignment — and why they will get time off with pay to provide this manpower, especially considering that the people working the polling places also get paid.  The answer is simple: Because getting money twice to do virtually nothing is a wonderful way to spend the day.

You may then ask (as I did) why ACTV employees enjoy this little perk, and not, say, members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, or the Red Cross, or the World Wildlife Fund, or someone else.

Because the ACTV contracts stipulate that their members will be allowed time off with pay for providing this service.

This is a marvelous clause, and if their contract were to contain similarly marvelous clauses, it would only make me more astonished that they ever bother to go on strike.  It’s a wonderful life on Planet ACTV.

But I noticed that, at least as Lino explained it to me, the contract doesn’t stipulate that ACTV employees must be called.  So why doesn’t the Board of Elections ring up the grain millers, or the Red Cross, etc., and just tell the ACTV employees “Sorry, but you’re going to have to go to work today.  The panda-counters will supervise the voting. You’re going to have to do your job carrying thousands of people around the lagoon.  Bummer.”

I don’t know why.  But all this makes me think disagreeable thoughts.  The ACTV is eager to take money by fining a passenger who hasn’t beeped his ticket before boarding, even if the ticket is a monthly pass which obviously has been paid in full.  They demand this immaterial beeping, and punish non-compliers.  We demand a boat every 12 or 20 or 30 minutes, or whatever the timetable is at the moment, and we get “Sorry, we can’t guarantee service because we’ve been constrained, obliged, and otherwise compelled to suspend runs by forces beyond our control, beyond even our ability to predict, which causes us to feel distress at the plight we have inflicted on you totally against our will, even though we’re inflicting it anyway.”

The world belongs to the ACTV, in the same way that it belongs to killer whales, Nile crocodiles, Harpy eagles.  Because although you can kill these creatures, if you really try, you can’t possibly make them afraid.  Or even vaguely apprehensive.

If you don’t think this could be a correct assessment, you should know that the ACTV has announced a 24-hour strike for May 30.

Categories : Venetian Problems
Comments (4)

So the Costa Concordia ran aground (January 13) and the administration here instantly went into several varieties of fits to show how eager it was to ensure that no such catastrophe could ever be inflicted on the most-beautiful-city-in-the-world by one of these leviathans, whose number is increasing at a Biblical rate.

Passengers see a ship. The anti-ship cadre sees a potential disaster. The city government sees a floating Brink's truck loaded with money, without which Venice can no longer survive. You decide.

Mission: Banish the Big Ships from the Bacino of San Marco where they might well run into a section of historic and irreplaceable real estate. I haven’t seen any calculations on the odds of this risk, but they may be similar to the odds of winning the lottery.

Lots of people who buy a lottery ticket think/hope that the probability of winning could be pretty good.  In the same way, lots of people who see the big ships passing think/fear that the probability of a huge catastrophe could be pretty good.  The distance between “could” and “might” is hard to measure when emotions run high.

The mayor, of course, promised rapid solutions, to be followed, naturally, by immediate results (hence the use of the word “solution”).  As expected, “rapid” is morphing into “eventual” on its way to “maybe” and then — who knows? — “never.”

The Petroleum Canal, which has already done so much damage, is the right angle on the left of the frame. The proposed new extension to the cruise port is the slightly sagging line connecting it to Venice. The idea would be to assign either the arrival or departure of a big ship via this route,thereby halving the number of transits of the bacino of San Marco.

The first proposal launched — and so quickly as to have barely resulted from first thoughts, much less second thoughts — was to dig a new canal. The environmental damage this would cause is so vast and so obvious that it’s hard to believe it was even discussed.  A large amount of information demonstrating what a terrible idea it is was instantly thrown in front of this notion to prevent its going any further (latest detail: deepening the Canale di Sant’ Angelo would mean having to tear out and reposition somewhere else a certain quantity of important cables buried there, not to mention the high-tension-wire pylons flanking it).  Even the cost of this undertaking hasn’t caused this notion to be officially abandoned, but its momentum seems to have slowed.

But if a new canal makes no sense, the proposal made a few days ago obliterates the line between creative and cuckoo. I wouldn’t even have mentioned it, but I wanted to show how really hard it is to come up with an alternative to the present system.

Ferruccio Falconi, a retired port pilot (who you might think would be more familiar with the lagoon and its behavior than most), has pulled the pin on the following idea and tossed it at the groin of common sense.

He proposes gouging out the mudbanks between the island of Sant’ Erasmo and the inlet at San Nicolo’, an area known as bacan’ (bah-KAHN).  On the map, it looks like useless empty space longing for a purpose in life.  But it already has a purpose — two of them.

This view shows the lagoon inlet at San Nicolo' on the left; in the middle is the island created for the MOSE project, which has already affected tidal behavior. "Bacan'" is the beige area in the big channel to the right, a swath of mudbanks with a temporarily exposed islet fronting the lower edge of the island of Sant' Erasmo. (Photo: Chris 73, Wikimedia Commons).

Its first purpose is the same as that of similar areas which compose the bloody-but-unbowed natural lagoon ecosystem. Mudbanks and barene, the remnants of marshy wetlands scattered around, are an essential component of the lagoon environment.  You may not care about clams and herons and glasswort, but these formations also slow the speed of the tide, something that ought to interest people ashore in the most-beautiful-city at least as much as the vision of a ship heading toward the fondamenta.

Its second purpose is as one of the all-time favorite places for thousands of pleasure-boaters to spend long summer days swimming and clamming and picnicking.

Doesn't this look neat and tidy? Eight ships all snugged up together. While constant dredging would undoubtedly be required to keep the area from refilling with sand and mud, that effort would be helped by the vortexes created by cruise-ship propellers. (Photo: Il Gazzettino)

But according to Falconi, the creation of a basin where nature never put, or wanted, or intends to keep one, would be the perfect place to park the cruise ships. Ergo, there would also have to be the construction of a huge jetty.

As simple geometry, it looks okay, though I failed geometry. But apart from the problems the size, weight, and propeller-power those eight little rectangles represent, there is also the inconvenient fact that Sant’ Erasmo is an island, raising the issue of by what means the floating Alps of the sea would be provisioned, and how the passengers would arrive and depart.

Simple: By boat. Thereby increasing by several powers of ten the amount of waves (motondoso) caused by the multiplied number of motorized craft running around the area (barges, taxis, launches, and scows carrying trucks). Motondoso has already damaged a lot of the lagoon, so this new activity would eradicate a new chunk of what’s left. The summer motorboats are already sufficiently destructive — why would even more be seen as a good thing?

This idea is yet another example of the point where Feasibility and Desirability break up, despite the best efforts of people with assorted motives to make them get married and have children.

The "Ruby Princess" backing out of its berth at Tronchetto, like its companions, scours up a lot of sediment, not all of which settles back where it came from.

The following letter to the Gazzettino (March 29, 2012) gives an excellent analysis of this suggestion (translated by me):

LAGUNA CROCIERE E GRANDI NAVI  (Lagoon, cruises, and big ships)

I read in the Gazzettino of the new proposal to “save” the cruises.

One appreciates the fantasy that unfortunately is right in step with the temerity of certain choices which we see at all institutional levels in the management of this problem.

To excavate bacan’ at Sant’ Erasmo to make it feasible for the big ships to maneuver and moor, ships which are tending to get bigger, would signify changing the hydrodynamics of the North Lagoon.

The creation of the new island in front of the inlet (at San Nicolo’) has already caused an increase in the velocity of the incoming tide, creating hydrodynamic imbalances with important consequent damage to the city.

To create a basin of 12 meters (40 feet) deep, at the least, to move and accommodate ships would make even that piece of lagoon into a piece of the sea.

Perhaps the fanciful pilot who has come up with this “loveliness” has forgotten about the abyss in front of San Nicolo’ with the resulting collapse of the bastions of the Fort of Sant’ Andrea a few years ago.

One understands that unfortunately the mentality still hasn’t changed: One tries to resolve a problem creating others. Or to put it this way: the application of the theory that has created MOSE: one creates a “solution” which, to talk about it, resolves the effects but not the cause.

The question arises spontaneously: Is the port worth the city?

(signed) Manuel Vecchina, Venezia

Excellent question, but don’t put it to Falconi.  He’s already got the answer.

Here's a view of the area where the eight ships would park, with Sant' Erasmo in the background. Low tide reveals how much mud and sand there is, and how far below the surface it is. Guess Vittorio Orio will have to find another place to work on his mascareta, to make room for the Queen Victoria, the Norwegian Gem, and so on.

A winter view of the same area, seen from the shore of Sant' Erasmo. It may look empty, but you should just see how much life there is bustling around in there.

And here's a glimpse of how much life is bustling around the surface on a typical summer day here. Actually, this is nothing -- there are boats anchored all over bacan'.

Egrets like to eat too, but if the big ships move in, all this will wash out to sea and the birds will have to bring their lunch with them.

By "big ships" I mean something like this.

The Venetian lagoon is one of the most important coastal ecosystems in the entire Mediterranean.  A century ago there were 35 square miles of salt-marsh wetlands in the lagoon; due to erosion by motondoso and the tidal force increased by the Petroleum Canal, by 1990 there were only 18 square miles left. Now we have MOSE, the floodgates whose installation required extreme deepening of the inlets, creating even stronger tidal flows.

In little more than 30 years, some 25,000,000 cubic meters of sediment have been flushed out to sea.  At the current rate of erosion, the World Wildlife Fund has estimated that by 2050 there will be no wetlands left. So Venice is spending masses of money to rebuild a batch of them where they’ve been eroded away. Where they will be eroded away again. Now we want a fantasy port to speed up the process which is turning the lagoon into a bay of the sea?

I sometimes think that if these people want to change the lagoon so much, why don’t they just drop a bomb on it, and get it over with?

The fort of Sant' Andrea was built in the mid-1500's to defend the approach to Venice from enemies entering at San Nicolo'. The cannon were placed at the waterline in order to blast out the hulls of any approaching enemy ships. At low tide the cement apron is easy to see.

The reference to the Fort of Sant’ Andrea in Vecchini’s letter recalls the fact that some years ago (even before MOSE) the force of the tide was eroding the island beneath this historic structure, and the walls of the entrance were beginning to sag and open up. Solution: Throw masses of cement on the shallow lagoon bottom in front of it to stop the slow-motion collapse.  When we row past there, we have to avoid what is essentially a broad cement shelf reaching outward from the fort.  Of course I’m glad it’s there.  I’m just saying.

Venice wanted the ships, but playing with them and their effects is beginning to look a lot like getting into a game of strip poker with no cards at all.

And no clothes, either.

 

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Categories : Motondoso, Water
Comments (6)