Ministry Suspends Residential Development by City Airport

The Ministry of Infrastructure considers the new residential development by Reykjavík City Airport to threaten the operational safety of the airport and has ordered construction at the site to be postponed, RÚV reports. A letter from the Minister of Infrastructure sent to the Mayor of Reykjavík last week states that the planned development would significantly reduce the operational safety of the airport. The City of Reykjavík’s land-use plan assumes that the airport will be relocated – but the government’s transport policy states that it must continue to operate until another airport is built.

The letter states that it is “totally unacceptable for such projects to be undertaken without fully examining whether – and in what way, it is ensured that they do not have a negative effect on the operational safety of Reykjavík Airport. The Ministry cannot agree to the commencement of construction unless it is demonstrated that aviation and operational safety are not endangered.” The Ministry has appointed a working group of experts to research the issue. They are expected to submit their findings on October 1.

Einar Þorsteinsson, Acting Mayor of Reykjavík while Dagur B. Eggertsson is on leave, says the city cannot afford to lose the 690 new apartments that are in the first phase of construction of the new neighbourhood. He points out that the neighbourhood’s design is based on two previous reports concerning airport safety in the context of the construction.

“I hope it will be possible to build a beautiful neighbourhood there, which serves those groups who are in dire need of housing and at the same time ensure the operational safety of the airport,” Einar stated.

Read More: Relocating Reykjavík Airport

There have been tentative plans to relocate Reykjavík City Airport for decades. The City of Reykjavík’s 2010-2030 land-use plan assumes that the airport will be relocated – but the government’s 2019-2033 Transport Policy states that Reykjavík City Airport in Vatnsmýri must continue to serve domestic flights in a satisfactory manner until another equally good or better option exists. City authorities have maintained that the first phase of construction in Skerjafjörður would not affect the airport’s operation.

Sculpture Will Be Relocated Following Fatal Accident

An outdoor artwork in the East Iceland town of Djúpivogur will be relocated following a fatal accident. A tourist in his 60s died after being run over by a construction vehicle at the site of the much-visited art installation by Sigurður Guðmundsson. Sigurður and Björn Ingimarsson, mayor of Múlaþing municipality, decided at a meeting last week that the artwork would be relocated to another seaside location within the town.

The harbour area of Djúpivogur, where the man was run over, is the site of ongoing construction. A rope had been installed to separate pedestrians from vehicular traffic, but it had been removed at the time of the accident due to construction activities. “It is, however, not certain that this fixture would have prevented the accident that occurred, as those who visit the site are not all using the walking path that is marked and so it is our consensus that the removal of the artwork from the area is necessary,” a notice from the municipality states.

“We mourn the tragic accident that happened by the artwork and want to do everything in our power to prevent something like this from happening again,” the notice underlines.

The artwork consists of 34 oversized birds’ eggs of polished stone. When it was originally installed, in 2009, there was little traffic in the harbour of Djúpivogur. The site has since become a hub of industrial activity, which is set to increase in the near future.

Intact Walls from an 11th Century Turf House Found in Seyðisfjörður

Archaeological dig in Seyðisfjörður

The undamaged walls of a manmade structure dating back to the 11th century have been found in an archaeological dig in Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland. RÚV reports that the walls are in such good condition because they were buried by a landslide that occurred around 1150.

“We’ve uncovered a number of structures or houses that seem to be under the landslide from 1150,” explained archaeologist Ragnheiður Traustadóttir. “So it’s just really exciting, what we’re starting to see here.” Uncovering the ruins is an ongoing process, Ragnheiður said, “but we’ve got some exciting weeks ahead.”

There are plans in the works to build landslide barriers in Seyðisfjörður to protect the town, which has been subjected to a number of devastating mud- and landslides in recent years. So this summer, as during the previous two, archaeologists have been working to uncover and preserve whatever artefacts they may find in advance of this construction. A number of smaller artefacts were found last summer, some of which dated back to the earliest settlement of Iceland. The landslide from 1150 was discovered last autumn, and beneath it, four pagan graves. Ragnheiður says this discovery changed the course of the dig, prompting the archaeologists to investigate the area under the landslide more closely.

Pearls found at the archaeological dig in Seyðisfjörður
Knut Paasche. Pearls found in a woman’s pagan grave at the archaeological dig in Seyðisfjörður.
A chess piece found at the archaeological dig in Seyðisfjörður
Knut Paasche. A chess piece found in a man’s pagan grave at the archaeological dig in Seyðisfjörður.

“What is perhaps the most interesting is that the landslide doesn’t appear to have damaged these houses,” she said. “Maybe it had lost all momentum by the time it had made it down here, to the settlement, and so just piled up along the turf walls and hills and so now we’re digging out unusually intact turf walls.”

Ragnheiður told Iceland Review that researchers are just beginning to uncover the structures at this time, but expect to eventually find even older artefacts, dating back to the time of settlement (9th century). The dig will continue until mid-August.

Increased Legal Rights for Victims of Sexual Assault in Iceland

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

Victims of sexual assault in Iceland can now receive information on the proceedings of the police investigation of their case and are permitted to be present at the trial, thanks to legislative amendments passed by Parliament, RÚV reports. A spokesperson from Stígamót, a centre for survivors of sexual violence, says the changes are a step forward but more needs to be done.

“I think this is a turning point and shows that there is will within the system towards victims of violence and there is a strong need for that. As we know, many cases are dismissed and victims are often unhappy with how they are received in the legal system and feel their need for justice is not fulfilled,” Steinunn Gyðu- og Guðjónsdóttir, a spokesperson for Stígamót, stated.

Victims defined as witnesses in their case

Icelandic legislation concerning sexual assault cases is structured in such a way that the victims in such cases are categorised as witnesses rather than parties to the case. This means they have little to no access to information concerning the proceedings of their case and may not be present at court proceedings. Experts and activists have been vocal in their criticism of this system, which was evaluated as lagging being most other Nordic countries when it comes to protecting victims’ rights.

The amendments change victims’ status in their case in several ways. Firstly, they may be present in closed court proceedings concerning their cases or watch them through a stream in the courthouse. Victims also receive increased access to the data of their case during the investigation and their legal rights protector (a lawyer assigned to protect their interests) is permitted to question those who are brought before the court.

Authorities also have additional responsibilities thanks to the amendments, including to inform the victim if a ruling has been made concerning the accused or if the accused has been released from custody.

Length of proceedings is next challenge to tackle

The bill has undergone considerable changes since it was first introduced last year. Steinunn is pleased the voices of Stígamót and the women’s movement have been heeded, but is disappointed that victims are still defined as witnesses in their own cases. This continues to limit their legal rights: they cannot, for example, sue the state if a mistake has been made in their case.

“As we have been seeing in the Court of Appeal, sentences are often being lightened because of how long the investigation has taken but victims do not receive such compensation.”

The procedural time for sexual assault cases can be up to a year and half with the police and just as long once they are in the hands of the prosecution. “The system really needs an injection of manpower and funding to fix that,” Steinunn stated. “This is just the legal status. Now the implementation needs to be fixed.”