The construction of lava barriers around Svartsengi Power Plant and the Blue Lagoon has begun. The barriers are meant to protect important infrastructure on the Reykjanes peninsula in case of an eruption, which is still considered likely in the coming days or weeks. Iceland’s Parliament approved a bill just before midnight last night to enable the building of lava barriers, which will be financed through a tax hike.
An ambitious project
The barriers will be 6-8 metres [20-26 feet] high and are expected to take 30-40 days to complete, Vísir reports. The gravel and soil used to build them are being mined from nearby Stapafell mountain. Minister of Justice Guðrún Hasteinsdóttir stated yesterday that the preparations for building the barriers are going well. Protecting the Svartsengi Power Plant is critical as it provides water and electricity to the entire Suðurnes region.
200 companies and 2,000 workers affected
Both Guðrún and Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson expressed the government’s desire for assisting Grindavík in repairing the damage the town has sustained, as well as supports its residents who have been evacuated from their homes and who may also face unemployment. Nearly 200 companies with around 2,000 employees operate within the evacuated area, and face uncertainty as to whether and when they may continue operations. The Directorate of Labour has stated that affected workers will be eligible for retroactive unemployment benefits from yesterday.
Lava barriers financed with a tax hike
The lava barriers will be financed by levying an additional tax on property owners in Iceland equivalent to 0.08% of their property’s fire insurance valuation (brunabótamat). The owner of a property worth ISK 100 million [$695,000, €650,000] will therefore pay an additional ISK 8,000 [$56, €52]. The tax will be levied for a period of three years, though it bears noting that similar taxes imposed in Iceland have later become permanent.
Pirate Party MP Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir and Centre Party Chairman Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson argued that any lava barriers constructed should be paid for with existing tax revenue. Some locals have argued that the privately-owned Svartsengi Power Plant and Blue Lagoon, which have made significant profits in recent years, should partake in financing the barriers.
Read more about the ongoing seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula.