Crazy bridges – how to destroy the Mosel

May 15, 2010

Planned bridge near Uerzig, Mosel

Two days ago the deadline for the petition ended. I confess that I did not make it in time. But I have joined the facebook group called “Stop the new B 50 and save the Mosel vineyards from devastating damage” opposing the building of this bridge.

The planned bridge is massive. It is about 160 meters high and 1.7 km long. It will probably cost about 270 million EURO which is equivalent to about US $ 400 million. On the facebook site above you can find more photos and animations showing you what the bridge will do to the Mosel valley.

The issue made it even into the New York Times which carried an article about it contrasting pro and contra views. Because the cost and benefits of such a massive undertaking are not clear cut. If you asked me to which camp I would belong, well, I asked myself two simple question: 1. would I give up my vineyard land for the venture? and 2. Would I like to look at this bridge from my window when I wake up in the morning?

My recent Australian experience with the North-South pipeline suggests that there is very little hope that such mega projects can be stopped by citizens protest. The Plug the Pipe campaign could not stop the project but it surely raised the political costs to Victorian the labour government. And election time is near.

Topher analyses the political economy of the North-South Pipeline. Unfortunately, there are no elections in my home state of Rheinland-Pfalz this year. So we are less lucky than the Victorians. The only thing which might save us is the empty state coffers.


Melbourne’s water supply

September 10, 2009

When I read in the Age that Melbourne is planning to take 10 billion litres (which covers the city consumption for about 10 days only) from the Thompson River to make up for the shortfall which cannot be covered from the Yarra River, I was not impressed. The Labour government is desperate.

The interview of Tim Holding, the Victorian Water Minister, which Plug the Pipe has on its website is revealing. The North-South pipeline is completed ahead of schedule but there is no water. The conclusion I draw from it is, the Minister should change jobs before it is too late. The state’s water policy is a mess.

The cartoon below (from Plug the Pipe) summarises the situation. Whereever Melbourne turns to these days for water: there is none. There is hope though: elections are around the corner (2010).

Cartoon N-S Pipelineweb


The North-South Pipeline III: No water!

April 22, 2009

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I was not surprised when I read on The Age today that the North-South pipeline would fall short as regards the volume of water it would bring to Melbourne in its first years. The article spoke of “dramatically less water”, in total about 160 billion litres less than originally predicted. Per year this amounts to 10 billion litres instead of the 75 billion carrying capacity. Consequently, the pipeline will not alleviate water shortages in Melbourne.

We the local rural people said that from the beginning. One of the consequences is that water prices for consumers will also rise (between 70- to 80 %). So will the costs per unit of water transported. I was always of the opinion that the projected costs of A $ 600 million could never be met anyway. Wait until the final figures are released, I assume it will be around 1 billion plus. This is what the Melbournians will have to shoulder in addition to the rising water costs. After the devastating bush fires in exactly the same region, the rural areas are unable to contribute to taxes and public finances anyway.

The Victorian Government is still refusing to reveal its exact pipe flow projections for the years 2011 and 2012. Tim Holding, the Water Minister, was hiding from The Age. Well, latest at the next election he has to come out and face the music. That’s the time when we are going to punish the Brumby Government for its arrogance and aloofness. But it’s no pleasure to be right in this case. The damage cannot be undone. We should erect a memorial to Brumby and its people.

Useful link: Plug the pipe


The North-South Pipeline: Impressions from Glenburn

February 3, 2009

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Yello poster billboard at the roadside opposing the pipeline

My opposition to the North-South Pipeline is well known. This has not changed after we had the opportunity to observe what is going on on the ground. Long lines of black pipe are lined up along the main highway around Glenburn these days.

Traffic is stopped at several intersections to allow the equipment of the pipeline companies to move in and out. The route of the pipe is along the Melba Highway switching sides unexpectedly. I wonder how they will get the pipes in under the highway. Will they stop the traffic and dig them in? We will know soon. Every day the residents of Glenburn are reminded of the fact that they are treated with sovereign contempt by their elected political leaders.

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The dry countryside between Glenburn and Yea

The land around Glenburn is dry these days. There are also large areas where there are hardly any trees left. Earlier residents have cut them down to extend the pastures for their cattle and sheep, a grave mistake as we know today. To re-establish trees on these barren hilltops is a challenge. Efforts to this end are often unsuccessful in this many year-long lasting drought.

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This installation was put up by local farmers

Everyone of our neighbours and residents along the prospective path of the pipeline we talked to were all opposed to it. I have not found a single supporter of the “beast”, that’s what I call the pipe.

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Plug the pipe and other protests

The pipe is going to be built, no doubt. I estimate the costs to be at least double the projected amount (from an 750 million A$ estimate, the direct costs will grow to a 1.5 or more A$). The taxpayer, this is all of us included, are going to pay this bill. The political costs are for the political parties to bear at the next election. If people still remember the violation of good governance principles and procedures by the labour government, they might not vote for them. Also people caring for the environment might vote other than labour. The country folk around Glenburn will definitely not vote labour, many of them never have. My personal wish is that labour will be defeated for the pipeline (and other such) plunder at the next election. Any government which treats their people with contempt as shown buy the Brumby administration deserve to be defeated regardless of its ideological persuasion.

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Near Devlin’s Bridge, they left an old oak tree standing and built around it. Hope the tree does not mind the digging and the invasion. In other places, especially in the Toolangi State forest, broad aisles are cut into the forest and cleared of every vegetation. I wonder how these aisles will hold in stormy conditions. Once the forest cover is cut through, they remaining trees might be vulnerable to gusty winds and storms; they might be at risk of falling over.

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Protecting the pipe from the people

The whole marked-out-route of the pipeline is fenced off. The long lines of the black pipe, I guess about 100 to 120 cm in diameter, can be seen from the road following the contours of the land. It looks like a giant worm, an earth worm so to say. I wonder if one day the pipeline will be used to pump water up-country. Instead of sucking it dry, reclaimed waste water and desalinated water could be pumped inland thereby helping the rural population to cope with the coming droughts. Of course then the rural people will have to pay for that. Melbourne Water would rub their hands in delight of the additional revenue generated.

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The “base camp” of the pipeline people, under security surveillance and protection for 24 hours a day

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This panorama view of the “base camp” attempts to depict how large the area is used for storage of the equipment, the machinery, the vehicles, the office containers and all the other gear needed to built the pipeline. But it seems to be much larger to the human eye than the photo can show.

The opponents of the pipeline have put up a wonderful website called, Plug the Pipe, full of useful material, plans, maps, audio and video clips as proof for the political plunder in the making. I myself have written two pieces in this blog describing the idiocy of the project. There is not much to add, I must say. The story of the pipe is a story of bad governance in 21st century Victoria. Let us how the next generation of political leaders will make up for the damage incurred by their predecessors.


The North-South Pipeline II: Liberal democracy at its worst

October 26, 2008

I am writing this piece from the city of Taoyuan on the beautiful island of Taiwan where I teach a course on “good governance in land administration”. Good governance is more likely to happen in a liberal democracy, but, it not always does. The desperate efforts of the Victorian government pushing the North-South-Pipeline project is a case in point. Components of good governance are transparency and participation, both of which are non-existent in the case of the pipeline project.

That politicians treat voters with contempt, is nothing new in emerging (young), transitional democracies. But that this can also happen in a well established and more or less functional system is quite remarkable. The current Victorian state government is a great show case for arrogance of the ones who govern vis-a-vis the governed. In its election manifesto before the 2006 election the Labour party claimed that they would not take water from the north of the divide if elected. Making and keeping promises is of course an entirely different matter. Democratic institutions and governing mechanisms guaranteeing, that the strong cannot push the weak around at will, seem to be out of order.

Many political analysts think that the government has deliberately misled the Victorian public in justifying the pipeline project (http://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/article/2008/10/01/11821_opinion-news.html and www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/article/2008/10/07/13471_opinion-news.html).

That the labour governments does not give a damn for rural populations is nothing new. Their voters are mainly sitting in the metropolitan area of Melbourne. However, the way the Victorian government pushed its ambitious North-South Pipeline project through is worth analysing. Here, you can witness an ecological disaster in the making. If the 21st century has more of this to offer to us in rural Australia, one of the backbones of the Australian rural economy will go down the gurgler in the years to come. The rural-urban divide is widening these days.

A similar pipeline project for the rural towns of Ballarat and Bendigo (The Goldfields superpipe) incurring huge costs to the taxpayers has miserably failed. The simple truth is: “where there is no water, there is nothing to be taken” and therefore the pipeline remains mainly dry.

Moreover, private property rights are not well protected these days, it seems. The so called “public interest” overrules private rights and dispossess many. That’s also so in the pipeline case. At the end of September some of our neighbours (Deb McLeish and Deb Bertalli) protesting the “invasion” of their lands by pipeline workers were taken into custody by police. If the state would react like this vis-a-vis those gamblers (CEO’s, bank and fund managers, traders, speculators, at Lehman Brothers or AIG, etc.) who destroyed billions of wealth in the recent financial crisis, our jails would be full. But they all walk free, enjoying even bailouts paid for by the little guys and their taxes.

Grass roots initiatives such as “Plug the Pipe” have organised widespread protests but to no avail. The government’s slogan “Our water, our future” does not include rural residents, it seems. But rural Victorians cannot even say, “our water, Melbourne’s future”, because there is no water in the rural hinterland of Victoria. Lake Eildon is at 23% of its capacity and allocations are just 4%. Water restrictions in many rural settlements (97 rural towns and cities) and are on stage 4 and this not just since yesterday (since 2002). The city is thirsty. This year Melbourne consumes more water than all the Goulburn farmers use for irrigating their crops.

An article carried by The Age website today, discussed the findings of a confusing state government-commissioned report (by the Sydney based Institute of Sustainable Futures) which comes to the conclusion that Melbourne does not need any new water-saving schemes in the future because of the abundance of water sources. I wonder how that will happen?

Eildon reservoir dry like a bone

I came across an interesting website when participating in an e-democracy forum the other day. As a wonderful example of participatory democracy the city of Melbourne was praised. On www.futuremelbourne.com.au you can inform yourself about the vision the government has for the years to come. You can also participate in writing the plan of the town if you enter the wiki link. There are videos, maps, an e-village, and other things, state of the art, as far as modern participatory democracy is concerned, so you might think.

If the same method would have been applied when the North-South Pipeline project was in the making, the results might have been different. Instead secrecy, intrigue and deceit were the tools used by the Victorian government. Participatory democracy is only for those the government cares for but not us rural folks, that’s clear.

What does Melbourne want to become in 2010 according to the website?

A City for People
A Prosperous City
An Eco City
A Connected City
A Knowledge City
A Bold & Inspirational City

The same cannot be said about the rural areas surrounding the metropolitan area. They will be dried out so that Melbourne has sufficient water to become, let it slowly roll over your tongue, an “eco-city”.

Whow, that blows me away, really. It’s not easy to not turn into a cynic. I guess the Victorian government’s decision-makers should have sat in my classes on good governance here in Taoyuan. Though, I doubt it would have helped.