Monday, 30 March 2009

Protest update

While the ducks struggle to nest on their denuded island and the now treeless banks, the protesters are still fighting an uphill battle. Last Thursday there was a regular monthly council meeting at the town hall which is open to public. The flood-prevention issue was one of the points on the agenda, as the result of the pressure that the protest caused. A time limit was allocated. One 'expert' after another spoke at length using powerpoint and much engineering jargon to explain how their 'taming' of the river will prosper the town*. All their calculations were based on a projected 'potential 100year flood' event - not the normal levels which are very low most Summers. Flood may or may not happen again (and it is common assertion, of course denied by the authorities, that the last big flood was caused by mismanagement of the dam upstream) but the damage to the natural environment would be permanent, and the aesthetic damage to this UNESCO monument is incalculable - after all, what is it that brings a million tourists into the town every year? The gentle organic banks with their greenery and trees were in beautiful harmony with the higgledy piggledy architecture of the town. Imagine what will be seen (after all, most of the time there's no flood and the water is low): a neat, straight, computer-calculated concrete and stone embankment with narrow stream of water. Possibly with mud and rubbish alongside it.
But the authorities' 'piece de resistance' came when they said that this whole effort is in response to an open letter from 2002, by the residents in Parkan street - the embankment - who specifically asked for flood prevention works to be done. Apparently this included the complete removal of the island and the chopping of the trees. The councillors didn't have the document on hand, but spoke with much fervour about it, using it to embarass one of the chief protesters, who apparently signed it then, and now wants the opposite! Much sarcasm and laughter in the audience, especially at the top table. What tactics! The poor man was totally lost: he knew that neither he nor any other residents signed any such thing. There was an open letter, it is true, straight after the huge flood but it was asking for a removal of a concrete barrier lower downstream, and a deepening of the existing riverbed. So now our friend has to go and prove it (I will report on this as we go along).
Anyway, our side spoke for 4 minutes and there was no more time allowed after the 45 minutes have elapsed. We waited for two hours for the end of the council session for the 'any other business' window. By which time everyone wanted to go home. But we did manage to bring up a couple of points, and there were some councillors who were on our side, asking for an alternative project to be commissioned. But they were more or less laughed out of the court by the pro-works side: now? Why didn't they ask for it earlier? The project is ready, the works should commence, planning permissions are in place... 'our' side argued that all the documentation was too vague - deliberately?- for them to realise the projected extent of the damage. OK. Maybe mistakes and oversights were made. But at least what they achieved for now is that there will be more discussions on the theme this coming week.

Whatever happened to bring this on, the issue still remains - the uglification of this beautiful town, and the damage to its nature. So if you want to help the councillors who are on our side, you can do two things -
1/email the Town Hall (addressed to the Mayor, Ing. Luboš Jedlička) c/o adding your name in support of the petition of March 2009 that asks for the retaining of the small island under Lazebnicky bridge
2/ write to UNESCO and ask whether they are aware of this situation, the citizens' protests, and the extent of damage the projected works may cause. The name and contact details

*We cannot argue the engineering side of things as we have no supporting documentation or qualifications. The experts' presentations neatly showed how removing the island, deepening the riverbed and strengthening the banks with a mix of stone and concrete at a 26degree angle would reduce the flood levels by up to 60 cms. None of it made real sense to us, as according to even their own calculations, removing the island alone would only make a small difference, maybe 5-10cms, and anyway by the time the water level reached the level of what is now the top of the island, it would spill out over the new barrier. And we believe that to calculate a true behaviour of a flood would need chaos theory anyway, as water cannot behave according to tables and one'd need to take into account all sorts of factors such as the amount of debris flowing, etc. But all that's perhaps not the point. The point is that these experts didn't once mention any other water levels except the highly unlikely '100year flood event' or indeed any cultural and environmental aspects.


MrK said...

I took Salamander's advice and sent an email to the council. She's asked me to copy it here in case anyone wants to use it as a starting point for their own:

Dear Ms Kaliskova

As a frequent visitor to your beautiful town, I would like to add my name to the people calling for a halt to the devastating 'flood prevention' schemes being introduced, at least until they can be altered to make them more in keeping with the history and landscape of the town. Of course flood prevention is important, but it can be done without destroying the environment it was designed to save.

salamander said...

This is great, thank you. Hope more people will feel moved to do the same :-)