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Documents Question Safety of Proposed Bridge in Germany's Mosel Valley

The roadway, which some winemakers oppose, could prove unstable; ministers reject claims

Ted Shoemaker
Posted: January 2, 2014

A regional government document obtained by local journalists raises more questions about construction of Germany’s High Mosel Bridge, which would stand above some of the world's most prized Riesling vineyards. Already controversial for its potential impact on the vines' microclimate, the bridge may have serious design issues. But government officials insists the plans rest on solid ground.

The 4-lane, 525-foot-high, mile-long Hochmoselübergang, with a price tag of $175 million, would connect Ürzig and Rachtig. It is currently Europe’s largest construction undertaking and would link the Frankfurt area with Belgium, the Netherlands and the commercial airport at the former Hahn U.S. Air Force base.

An internal government document obtained by the German magazine Der Spiegel cites "geological slip surfaces" as deep as 230 feet in the western slope of the valley. These, it said, "weren’t properly investigated."

"This confirms what we have feared all along," said Sarah Washington, a British artist who lives in the valley and leads Pro-Mosel, a group that opposes the project. "There is information stretching right back to the 1950s which suggests that the Ürzig slope may be too problematic to build upon." Washington’s group filed a lawsuit in November seeking an investigation into fears of unstable ground beneath the bridge’s piers, but the Trier court rejected the petition.

Several local vintners oppose the project. Not only is it unsightly, they say, but it would increase pollution, disturb the microclimate, heighten soil erosion and interfere with the watershed. Construction halted last year for unexplained reasons—opponents say it was because of design problems, a claim the government rejects—then resumed six months later.

Der Spiegel quotes experts as saying that the "risks to the foundation" of the piers, which are to be almost 500 feet high, are "very great." In the document, the Office of Geology of the state of Rheinland-Pfalz told state economics minister Eveline Lemke that these conditions pose "significant structural and financial risks." Lemke is a member of the Green Party, which opposes the project.

The state Interior Ministry disputes these findings. "It’s challenging, but manageable by engineering technology," said spokesman Joachim Winkler. The ground has been thoroughly investigated, he said. Among other things, there have been some 180 borings, some to a depth of 230 feet, "with particular emphasis on hillside stability." Furthermore, he said, there are instruments to measure inclination and determine if there is any change in it.

In the document, the State Office for Geology said the "slip surfaces" aren’t an urgent problem, "though an increased investigative effort is indispensable."

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