An anti-flood system that was supposed to start working in Venice in 2011 – and could have protected the iconic city from more than a billion dollars in water damage last year – is now getting a trial run.
The 78 bright yellow barriers of project Moses finally rose from the sea Friday, acting as a kind of a on-demand dike.
The project, which was inaugurated in 2003 and was supposed to be finished by 2011, has been mired in corruption. In 2014, The Associated Press reported, investigators revealed a system of bribes and kickbacks — nearly $6.5 billion overall has been poured into the planning and construction of the anti-flood system.
The project’s name, Moses, recalls the biblical figure who, as told in the Old Testament, parted the waters of the Red Sea. But it also is the Italian acronym for Experimental Electromechanical Modules.
The movable flood gates are attached by hinges to cement blocks on the seabed along three openings from the sea into the lagoon. After high-tide danger ceases, sea water is pumped into the gates to make them heavy so they can be lowered.
Despite Friday’s trial run, the project is estimated to be fully operational only in 2021, although Premier Giuseppe Conte expressed hope it could be ready by this autumn.
Last November, Venice suffered its worst flooding in more than 50 years.
Floodwaters invaded St. Mark's Basilica and also poured into homes, hotels, stores and restaurants in the city, which lives off tourism. City officials estimated the total flood damage at to be more than a billion dollars.
The barriers are designed to protect Venice from tides as high as 10 feet. In the November flood, the tide surged to 6.5 feet.
Yet environmentalists have opposed the project, afraid it will disturb the lagoon's delicate ecology. On Friday, some of them rode in small boats near the test site and waved protest banners, while police in speedboats cut swift paths among the protesters' boats as tensions flared.
The protesters contend that because the world's sea levels are rising in general, the movable barrier system will become obsolete as the Adriatic Sea's level eventually rises to the point that waters will be higher than what the barriers were designed to hold back.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.