- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

ROME — A group of engineers and geologists said yesterday that they are considering injecting seawater under Venice to raise the waterlogged Italian city by a foot and rescue it from the tides and floods that bedevil it.

That would enable Venice to regain nearly the height that it has lost in the past 300 years, said Giuseppe Gambolati, the head of the project.

The $117 million project entails digging 12 holes with a diameter of 1 foot within a 6-mile area around the city and pumping seawater into the ground at a depth of 2,298 feet, said Mr. Gambolati, an engineer and professor at the University of Padua.

The seawater is expected to expand the sand that lies underneath, which, combined with a topping of waterproof clay, eventually would push up the soil, he said.

Mr. Gambolati said the scientists were planning to test the project on small area.

“If the pilot project proves successful, we will see an immediate benefit, even though gradual, while the complete elevation will be achieved in around 10 years,” he said.

The project is in its initial phase and will have to be discussed and evaluated by various city, regional and state commissions before it is approved.

The final version would be in addition to a much-publicized plan to build a flood barrier to ease the effect of high tides.

Mr. Gambolati’s plan has its critics, including Michele Jamiolkowski, a professor of geotechnic engineering at the Turin Polytechnic, who warned that the project requires years of research and millions of dollars before it can come close to reality.

“We are really in the area of science fiction,” said Mr. Jamiolkowski, who chaired the committee that oversaw the project to stabilize the Leaning Tower of Pisa. “This project is not something very realistic.”

Mr. Jamiolkowski, who was asked for an independent evaluation by a group linked to the municipality of Venice, said such a plan probably would raise the city by only about 6 inches, thereby providing little respite from the rising tides.

It also could cause parts of Venice to raise unevenly, which “is absolutely unacceptable for buildings, especially historical buildings,” he said.

Venice is threatened by water on several fronts. The city is sinking while the level of the Adriatic Sea is rising, and high tides are becoming more frequent, flooding into famed St. Mark’s Square and prompting officials to set up raised walkways.

The decades-old debate on how to save Venice from water brought approval in 2003 of a vast project to build a flood barrier to ease the effect of high tides.

Dubbed “Moses,” after the biblical figure who parted the Red Sea, the project calls for hinged barriers to be built in the seabed just off Venice that could be raised when high tides threaten the city. Completion of the $5.2 billion project is expected by 2011.

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