Vík Mayor Wants to Build Harbour for Sand Mine

Vík í Mýrdal

Iceland’s Minister of the Environment and Energy opposes plans to transport sand from a planned sand mine in South Iceland by truck along the Ring Road. Residents have expressed opposition to the plans, which would see large trucks driving at 7- to 8- minute intervals along the Ring Road in South Iceland 24 hours per day. The mayor of Vík, just 15 km west of the mine’s planned location, has proposed building a harbour in the town from which the sand could be exported.

Road transport “is not going to work” says Environment Minister

“Everyone knows that there is a lot of strain on infrastructure as it is, and putting heavy transport on top of that is something that I don’t think there will ever be agreement on,” Environment Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson stated. “Whichever way you look at it, adding to these roads and through these settlements is not going to work.”

Negative impact on traffic, positive on the climate

In 2020, German company EP Power Minerals purchased a large property in South Iceland, around 15 km [9.3 mi] east of the town of Vík í Mýrdal. The property mostly consists of sand plains and the company plans to establish a sand mine on it. The sand would be exported to Europe and possibly North America, where it will be used as an additive in cement.

A recently-published environmental report on the proposed mine judged the project’s impact on traffic and roads to be “considerably negative.” Its climate impact, however, was evaluated as “considerably positive,” as the material produced would replace cement clinker and reduce carbon emissions due to concrete production by 800 million kg of CO2 equivalents annually.

Only coastal town without a harbour

Einar Freyr Elínarson, Mayor of Mýrdalshreppur municipality (in which Vík is located), has proposed building a harbour in Vík from which the mined materials could be exported.

“Route 1 passes through several urban areas on the way to Þorlákshöfn [the planned export harbour]. So we in the municipality propose looking into the possibility of shipping all of this out from here on the coast, and building a harbour,” Einar told Vísir.

Vík is the only coastal town in Iceland that doesn’t have a harbour, but the south coast’s strong waves post challenges in such construction projects. The nearby Landeyjarhöfn harbour, from which the Westman Islands ferry departs, fills with sand that must be pumped out regularly.

Einar says he has proposed the idea to EP Power Minerals representatives who have not expressed direct opposition to the idea. The harbour would not be built using public funds, Einar says, calling it an “exciting opportunity” for the municipality, as well as the local tourism and fishing industries.

Awareness of Off-Road Driving Ban Lacking in Iceland

Off-road driving marks in the Central Highland

Three Italian tourists have pleaded guilty to off-road driving in Iceland’s Central Highland, north of Vatnajökull glacier. Off-road driving is illegal in Iceland and those who are caught must pay hefty fines. The director of the Travel Association of Fljótsdalshérað, East Iceland, says more must be done to ensure foreign tourists are aware of the ban.

Þórhallur Þorsteinsson has been working in tourism in East Iceland for decades. He posted pictures of the damage done by the three Italians on his Facebook page, calling the deep tire tracks among the worst he’s ever seen.

Þórhallur told Vísir he’s tired of seeing such damage and says tourism operators and the government must do more to get the message across that off-road driving is illegal in Iceland. Smyril Line, which operates the ferry between mainland Europe and Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland, as well as car rental companies, the Environment Ministry, and the municipality of Múlaþing, East Iceland, are a few of the parties Þórhallur mentioned as bearing the responsibility to educate tourists on the fragile environment they are visiting in Iceland, that takes decades to recover from damage caused by off-road driving.

When tourists lack awareness of the off-road driving ban, damage can lead to even more damage. “Then tourists come and see an old circle made off-road. Then they take a spin themselves; think about doing it themselves. ‘Why not me?’” Þórhallur explains.

In addition to tourism operators and local authorities, Þórhallur says the Icelandic government bears the largest responsibility to ensure off-road driving does not happen.

The three Italian tourists have been fined several hundred thousand Icelandic krónur, or thousands of euros, for the offence.

Glacial Flood Expected in West Iceland

Hraunfossar Waterfalls

A relatively high water level in a glacier lagoon by Langjökull glacier, West Iceland, suggests that a flood can be expected from the lagoon in the near future. Such floods have occurred before and are known to cause a very rapid water level rise in the rivers Svartá and Hvítá in the Borgarfjörður area.

The Volcanology and Natural Hazard Group and the University of Iceland published satellite images of the lagoon and surrounding area yesterday, showing a high water level in the lagoon. At least three floods have occurred from the lagoon before in the last few years; in August 2020, August 2017, and September 2014.

Eldfjallafræði og náttúruvárhópur Háskóla Íslands / Facebook. 

Typically, the floodwater runs under the glacier toward the southwest, where it runs into Svartá and then from that river into Hvítá. The Icelandic Met Office is monitoring the situation, in part with water level measuring equipment in Hvítá, which will be able to detect the peak of the flood.

The flooding could be dangerous to those travelling on or near the two rivers.