Rule of law

Budapest council approves dam without risk assessment or contingency plan

The municipal assembly of Budapest at the beginning of April approved the construction of a mobile dam system on the northern Buda side, to protect the so-called ‘Roman riverbank’ section of the town along the Danube. Mayor István Tarlós claims that the project, which has been controversial ever since the idea was floated, is professionally and scientifically well-founded. 

However, Atlatszo was told by relevant authorities that officials decided on the project before planners finished the contingency plan and risk assessment.

And the consequences might be serious: according to a 2013 contingency plan if the mobile dam breaks, the water will damage the neighbouring areas so fast that there will not be a time even to notify those living there.

It was a month before the final vote on the dam that started asked the municipality of Budapest about how and why it chose Ter-Team Mernok Kft to design the mobile dam structure since we could find no trace of the decisions reasons. The documents obtained by Atlatszo show that the company was commissioned to design flood protection for the ‘Roman’ waterfront in a way that would not inconvenience homeowners in the area.

Commonly called ‘Római’ in Budapest, the Northern Buda waterfront is a favoured weekend vacation spot for many and thus a valuable piece of the local property market. Many of the homeowners, however, built their houses in violation of zoning restrictions.

This means that their houses and apartments will be under water should the Danube flood, which does happen every few years. Budapest eventually decided that it would protect these areas with the installation of a dam, but that would come with the destruction of wildlife in the area. Many old trees would have to be cut to build the dam – and the whole are will be a different place, losing its character beloved by locals.

Once we finally got the Ter-Team contract, only one thing was clear: the instructions from the municipality mainly represented the homeowners’ interests, even if that meant cutting down more trees.

A risk assessment drafted by another firm stated that the positioning of the mobile dam raised additional risk should the structure be breached since the water it accumulated breaking through would cause even more extensive damages not only on the shoreline but also further into the mainland. When we wanted to learn Ter-Team’s take on this concern, we were disappointed, since their project proposal doesn’t address this aspect at all. We were then informed that the case study is currently under preparation.

This proves that Budapest decision makers decided on the project and the contractor without being fully aware of the circumstances and additional risks.

In the meantime locals and environmentalists continue to protest the project that in any case is likely to lead to widespread devastation for the sake of homeowners who decided to build without the proper permints, knowing the risks.

Written by András Becker

The original story, in Hungarian, can be found here.

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