Plans to Expand Reykjanesbraut

Keflavík airport

The Road Administration is preparing to expand Reykjanesbraut (Route 41), the road which connects Keflavík International Airport and the capital area.

The Road Administration has submitted an assessment plan to the National Planning Agency for an environmental impact assessment for doubling lanes on Reykjanesbraut between Hafnavegur and Garðskagabraut. The construction section in question is approximately 4.7 kilometers long, extending from the roundabout at Fitjar to Rósaselstorg, where two lane highway currently ends to the roundabout where Reykjanesbraut, Sandgerðisvegur, and Garðskagavegur meet. The road will become a four-lane road, with two lanes in each direction, and the traffic directions will be separated by a barrier.

Work on expanding Reykjanesbraut began in 2003. The coming development will be the final section of this expansion work.

Read the plans here.

Case of Alþingi Protestor Referred to District Prosecutor

alþingi protestor

According to Morgunblaðið, the case concerning an asylum seeker who protested this past spring at Alþingi has been referred to the district prosecutor.

Highly-Criticised Immigration Bill Passed in Iceland

The incident occurred on March 4 while Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, the Minister of Justice, was at the podium presenting presenting proposed changes to the controversial immigration bill. The man, an asylum seeker from Iraq, shouted “you don’t have a heart” and climbed over a handrail in the upper gallery of the Alþingi hall. The man was removed by security guards.

Investigation concluded

According to Morgunblaðið, the investigation into the case has been concluded, and it was referred to the district prosecutor.

The prosecutor’s office has not yet taken up the case, and no further information is available.

Read more about the immigration bill that provoked the protest.

 

New Kilometre Tax Proposed for Petrol and Diesel Vehicles

A car driving in the North Icelandic countryside.

The Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs has announced plans to introduce a kilometre tax for gasoline and diesel vehicles. This tax was applied to electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen vehicles at the beginning of the year. The kilometre tax is intended to replace the current taxes on oil and gasoline, which are paid when purchasing fossil fuels. The planned tax would eliminate current oil and gasoline taxes. Read the proposed legislation here.

Adjusted by weight

The bill is planned to be presented before Alþingi this coming fall. Should it pass, it would take effect January 1, 2025. The bill proposes a kilometre tax based on the number of kilometres driven, adjusted for vehicle weight, regardless of the vehicle category.

Key points of the proposal include a fixed rate per kilometre for vehicles with a permitted total weight of 3,500 kg or less, as these vehicles generally cause similar road wear. For vehicles exceeding 3,500 kg, the tax amount will be based on total weight using a specific weight factor calculation. The tax will increase with the vehicle’s weight, reflecting the greater impact heavy vehicles have on road wear compared to lighter ones. This weight-based kilometre tax is intended to reflect the actual road use and weight of the vehicle.

Incentive to transition to renewable energy

The kilometre  tax will replace the current petrol and diesel taxes, which are paid when purchasing fossil fuels.

The tax will be paid based on an estimate of average monthly mileage and settled when the new odometer reading is recorded by an accredited inspection agency. The collection method will be similar to how utility companies bill for energy use.

If passed, the new system claims to ensure a continued financial incentive for the transition to renewable energy, as the new tax schedule would mean that the energy and maintenance costs for electric vehicles will remain significantly lower than those for fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

 

Hornstrandir Film Festival Enters Second Round

Hornstrandir Film Festival

Hornstrandir Film Festival will hold its second edition in Iceland’s Westfjords this month, after its inaugural event last July. The festival focuses on environmental topics and climate change, with 15 documentary films showing from July 14 to 22, 2024.

Fifteen documentary films in five locations

In their mission statement, the festival organisers state:

“Health and the present situation concerning our environment and climate change are vital issues for mankind. With the Hornstrandir Film Festival, we wish to highlight the facts but, at the same time, show stories that reveal man’s connection to nature, giving us hope and opening our eyes to how we can all do better for a healthier environment for ourselves and life on our planet.”

The featured documentaries will be presented in five different locations around Hornstrandir. Hornstrandir is Iceland’s northernmost peninsula and one of the country’s most remote areas, with no cellphone connection, paved roads, or infrastructure. The area was abandoned by its last residents in the 1950s and declared a nature reserve in 1975.

A group of about 30 people will hike to different spots in Hornstrandir to follow along with all of the 15 film screenings, carrying most of the equipment they need on their backs. Films include The North Face’s Groundwork and Earthside, which will be screened at Látrar in Aðalvík, one of Hornstrandir’s largest emergency shelters. The festival opens with the blockbuster Canary and Common Ground, which will be shown in a special Antarctic Tent in Hornvík.

Hornstrandir Film Festival
All of the film picks for the festival and their locations, photo: HFF

Attending the most remote film festival

The public is invited to attend the festival’s various exhibition venues but is advised to do so at their own risk due to the challenging nature of the location. For those unable to make the journey, most films will be available for online viewing during the end of September.

If you are interested in following along, you can look out for Iceland Review’s coverage of the festival, as reporter Alina Maurer and photographer Art Bicnick will join the journey.

Hornstrandir Film Festival
All the film locations in Hornstrandir, photo: HFF

OECD Survey Shows Decreasing Trust in Public Institutions

Miðborg Reykjavíkur - tekið úr byggingakrana

According to a recent OECD Trust Survey, in 2023, 36% of Icelanders reported high or moderately high trust in their national government, which is below the OECD average of 39%. This figure marks a 14 percentage point drop since 2021, the third largest decrease among OECD countries with available data.

Initiated in 2021, the OECD Survey on Drivers of Trust in Public Institutions explores the public perception of institutions and government across 30 OECD nations. The survey takes into account both day-to-day interactions with administrative systems, in addition to trust in government to make complex policy decisions. Read the full report here.

Other people trusted most, political parties trusted least

Similar to most OECD countries, Icelanders trust other people (82%) and the police (73%) more than their national government (36%). Over half of the population has high or moderately high trust in the national civil service (64%) and news media (62%). The national parliament (36%) and political parties (20%) are the least trusted institutions in Iceland.

The survey also revealed that in Iceland, people who feel excluded from the political system trust the national government 42 percentage points less than those who feel included, a smaller gap than the OECD average of 47 points. Notably, Iceland is one of three countries where women (37%) trust the national government slightly more than men (36%), unlike the OECD average where women’s trust is 7 points lower than men’s. Trust in the national government is equal among younger and older Icelanders, while across the OECD, older people’s trust is 7 points higher. Trust gaps related to education and financial concerns in Iceland mirror the OECD average.

Large gap between day-to-day institutions and government

The survey showed further that Icelanders, for the most part, trust the institutions they interact with daily, such as the civil service. For most day-to-day interactions with administration, Icelanders showed satisfaction generally higher than OECD averages. A large majority of people in Iceland (66%) with recent experience with the education system are satisfied with it, compared to 57% on average across the OECD. Additionally, 66% are satisfied with the administrative services they used, which is equal to OECD averages.

However, the general satisfaction with daily administration contrasted sharply with larger questions of policy and accountability. Indeed, the survey indicated that Iceland scores below the OECD average on nearly all indicators related to decision-making on intricate policy matters. A third of people in Iceland (34%) expect that government balances interests of current and future generations, a share that is 3 percentage points lower than the average across OECD countries (37%). Strikingly, only 20% of those surveyed found that parliament held government accountable. This is significantly lower than the OECD average of 38%.

 

Considerable Disruptions to Reykjavík Traffic Next Week

driving in reykjavík

Next week, construction is planned to begin on a pedestrian crossing where Reykjastræti intersects with Geirsgata. The construction is scheduled to start on July 15 and will be completed before the Merchants’ Day Weekend, which is in the first week of August.

New crosswalk, heated sidewalks

The construction will involve removing the current asphalt, installing curbs on either side to raise the pedestrian surface 6 cm above the current road level, installing a heated sidewalk for snow removal, adding a zebra strip crosswalk, and repaving.

The contractor for the project is Lóðaþjónustan.

Significant impact on traffic

The work is expected to have a significant impact on traffic in downtown Reykjavík. Two lanes on Geirsgata will be closed eastbound, but traffic will continue westbound. Traffic will be shifted westward between lanes, and all eastbound traffic on Geirsgata will be redirected to Hringbraut.

Access to the underground parking at Hafnartorg will be from the north on Geirsgata, and it will be necessary to cross the street in order to walk towards Grandi. The parking garage will remain open at all times.

Read more at the City of Reykjavík website (in Icelandic).

Svartsengi Barrier Elevation Progressing Well

lava barrier Iceland

The elevation of the protective barriers around the Svartsengi power station, which will be raised by 4-9.5 metres to a height of 10-21 metres, is progressing well. The project is expected to be completed before Merchant’s Weekend.

Project progressing well

On June 18, lava breached a protective barrier near the Svartsengi power station, not far from the town of Grindavík. Firefighters responded by using water from fire trucks to halt the lava flow. They also experimented with cooling machinery but encountered issues relating to water pressure.

The eruption drew to a close on June 22, although another eruption is likely to occur in the coming weeks or months. On June 27, the Minister of Justice authorised raising and strengthening protective barriers around Svartsengi to prevent damage from volcanic activity.

In an interview with Mbl.is published this morning, Hörn Hrafnsdóttir, an engineer at Verkís, stated that the elevation of the protective barrier, where lava overflowed in the last eruption, is progressing well.

Read More: Wall of Fire (On the Construction of Lava Barriers on Reykjanes)

The project is expected to be completed before Merchant’s Weekend (August 2 – August 5). The barrier in question, referred to as L1, extends from Mt. Sýlingarfell. As noted by Hörn, the height of the barrier varies, although it will generally be raised by 4-9.5 metres in different sections. This means the height of the barrier will range between 10-21 metres.

“Things are going very well, and the elevation should be finished before the Merchant’s Weekend,” Hörn stated.

As reported by Mbl.is, approximately 30-35 people were working on elevating the barrier near Svartsengi. Hörn noted that Verkís has not yet conducted simulations to determine whether the lava would have reached the Svartsengi power plant without the barriers. Regarding the last eruption, it was evident that the lava came dangerously close.

Thieves Trick Moving Company, Steal Valuable Container

driving in reykjavík

A container belonging to a Reykjavík plumbing company was stolen after thieves deceived a moving company into transporting it from private property. The owner of the company told Vísir that he intends to sue the movers.

“Didn’t meet a soul”

Almar Gunnarsson – a master plumber and one of the owners of the company Landslagnir – kept his work tools in a forty-foot container on Landslagnir’s private lot at Fiskislóð, Reykjavík. When he arrived at his property yesterday, however, he discovered the container had vanished.

Almar later learned that the moving service ET had received a request from an unspecified individual to move the container to a storage area at Hólmsheiði, just east of Reykjavík. Almar subsequently drove to the site, where he found that the container was empty.

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Almar stated that the container held goods valued at ISK 10 to 14 million ISK [ca. $85,000/€81,000]: “The thieves simply called ET Movers from some burner phone and requested the container be moved. ET arrived at the lot, took the container, transported it, and didn’t meet a soul. The container was then emptied,” Almar told Vísir.

Almar contacted ET Movers, where he was informed that the individual who had contacted them regarding the container had requested that an invoice be sent to a construction company located in Akureyri. The company in question has no knowledge of requesting the service.

“Easier than ordering a pizza”

“I have spoken with my insurance company, and they are looking into it,” Almar told Vísir. “I’ve also consulted with lawyers who believe that ET is responsible since they moved the container at the thieves’ request.”

“ET doesn’t seem to care,” Almar continued. “I called them, and they told me to speak to a lawyer.”

As noted by Vísir, Almar found it simultaneously bewildering and comical that moving a container from one place to another is easier than ordering a pizza. The CEO of ET Movers declined to comment on the matter when contacted by Vísir yesterday.

Reykjavík Health Authority Confirms Legionnaires’ Case

Reykjavík drone

The bacterium causing Legionnaires’ disease was detected in the water supply of a house in the Holt neighbourhood in Reykjavík, leading one person to fall ill, Heimildin reports. The water system has since been cleaned, and new tests are expected to confirm its safety in 10 days.

One person taken ill

The bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease was recently discovered in the water of a house in the Holt neighbourhood, near downtown Reykjavík. One person has fallen ill. This has been confirmed by the Reykjavík Public Health Authority.

At the request of the Chief Epidemiologist, the health authority took water samples at Vatnsholt and detected the bacterium in one house. “A cleaning was conducted by pumping 70-degree hot water through the system,” the Reykjavik Public Health Authority stated in a response to Heimildin’s inquiry.

“The water system has likely been cleaned effectively, and new samples have been taken to confirm this, with results expected in 10 days. The issue appears to be resolved, and only one person fell ill. Generally, healthy individuals are not at risk of getting sick.”

Not contagious

Legionnaires’ disease is a form of atypical pneumonia caused by any species of Legionella bacteria. As noted by Heimildin, infection can occur when aerosolized water from pipes or tanks is inhaled. Severe illness is more likely in individuals with underlying risk factors such as advanced age, smoking, chronic lung diseases, immunosuppression, alcoholism, and kidney failure. The disease does not spread between people.

Heimildin quotes the Reykjavík Public Health Authority as stating that the bacterium occasionally appears, often when residential water systems are unused for several months, such as during extended stays abroad. A resident at the Droplaugarstaðir nursing home contracted Legionnaires’ disease in 2019 and fully recovered.

New Online Resource Supports Icelandic Children of Divorce

school children

Icelandic children aged 3 to 17 with divorced parents now have access to an online resource, SES for Children, to learn about divorce and its impact. The programme, which includes 28 courses, aims to help children cope with the consequences of divorce and is the first of its kind to be offered nationwide.

First to offer nationwide access

Icelandic children aged 3 to 17 with divorced parents now have access to a new online resource to learn about divorce and its impact on their lives and emotions, Vísir reports. The programme offers 28 online courses tailored to different age groups and themes, covering topics such as grief, blended families, how to react when parents argue, emotions, and children’s rights.

Previously available only to adults, the programme, SES (Samvinna eftir skilnað, or Cooperation After Divorce in English), now has around 2,000 adult users in Iceland. It was launched in 2020 and, as noted on the government’s website, has proportionally the most users compared to both the Danish and Swedish websites.

The children’s version, developed similarly by child and family psychologists in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen, is entitled SES for Children. Last week, the Minister of Education and Children’s Affairs, Ásmundur Einar Daðason signed an agreement to introduce SES for Children and extend the programme for adults.

As noted by Vísir, Iceland is the first country to offer this service nationwide.

Clear demand for a children’s version

Sören Sander, one of the project’s developers in Copenhagen, has researched divorce and its effects on families for years. In an interview with Vísir published today, Sander noted that since the adult programme’s inception, there has been a clear demand for similar resources for children. 

SES for Children is already offered in 22 municipalities in Denmark and 11 in Sweden, with Iceland being the first to offer it nationwide: “This programme has been implemented and used elsewhere, with ten thousand children already benefiting from it. It has been tested and proven effective,” Sander stated, adding that parents’ feedback had been overwhelmingly positive.

“We are often asked if there is something similar for children. Most parents are happy to have a tool that can help them open difficult conversations with their kids. This new resource bridges the communication gap between parents and children regarding the changes in the family during divorce,” Sander explained, adding that he believes Iceland is an ideal place to launch the programme due to its small size and the positive reception from adults. 

In June, there were 2,075 adult users in Iceland. Six to seven hundred divorces are recorded in Iceland annually, Vísir notes.

Empowering children

As noted by Vísir, the programme is for children who have not only experienced their parents’ or guardians’ divorce but also for those who went through it years ago and now live in new family setups with stepparents and stepsiblings. It is for the entire family: before, during, and after the divorce. 

Sander emphasises that the programme is a good conversational tool that empowers children without burdening them with responsibility.

“It empowers them to speak up when their parents aren’t communicating or are speaking poorly about each other. Children have little power in these situations and find it distressing to see their parents argue,” Sander observed. As noted by Vísir, one module teaches children how to intervene without escalating conflicts.

“It could be a birthday or a confirmation, or even when the child grows up and gets married,” Sander explained. “These major family events can be sources of conflict. Our toolkit includes a checklist for handling such situations and questions for parents to consider. Should there be one party or two? Should they buy a gift together? Should they invite new partners and both families? Who pays for what? These seemingly simple questions often cause significant disagreements.”

Sander further noted that in such cases, parents sometimes ask the child what they want, which can create a loyalty conflict. “But that places the responsibility on the child and can create a loyalty dilemma,” Sander explained. One module teaches children to tell their parents politely that they don’t want to choose.”

“The child can say, ‘I choose not to have an opinion on this. You have to decide.’ This helps children stay out of conflicts and lets parents find a solution,” Sander observed. The programme addresses one problem from multiple angles.

“I think Iceland can be a model for other countries,” Sander added.

No waitlist

As noted by Vísir, the SES website is still in development. All courses are available, but some are still in Danish and awaiting translation (they will be replaced as soon as translations are ready). The content is accessible online, so it can be viewed anytime.

“There is no waitlist,” Sander clarified. “We know that men are less likely than women to seek help. Also, people in small communities may hesitate to seek help locally. It’s a big advantage for those people to be able to seek help online.” 

“Our hope is that this will be useful for children and their parents and will even encourage them to talk about it with others. It’s normal to find it difficult, but it helps to not feel alone. It’s easier to ask for help when you have the vocabulary and a common language. Children often don’t realise their distress is due to their parents’ divorce. This programme helps them understand the root of their problems and that they are not alone,” Sander concluded.