Local English-Language Council Draws Praise, Criticism

Vík í Mýrdal

The unique English-language council in the Mýrdalshreppur municipality has ignited debate and public discussion, particularly after its recent receipt of a community recognition award. Women of Multicultural Ethnicity Network (W.O.M.E.N. in Iceland) supports the initiative, emphasising its importance in integrating immigrants into the community and encouraging other municipalities to follow suit.

Hot-button issue

Considerable discussion has arisen about the administration of the Mýrdalshreppur municipality in South Iceland – the only municipality in Iceland where a special English-language council advises the local authorities, RÚV reports. The English-language council was established at the time of the 2022 municipal elections in Mýrdalshreppur, given especially that the majority of the residents in the municipality do not speak Icelandic as their first language.

Read More: Boom Town (On the growth of Vík í Mýrdal)

In an op-ed for Visir, journalist Snorri Másson questioned whether it was genuinely “prize-worthy” for Mýrdalshreppur to have received a community recognition award from the Icelandic Regional Development Institute (Byggðastofnun) for the English-language council.

In response, Einar Freyr Elínarson, the mayor of Mýrdalshreppur, countered in another op-ed asking if greatly increased democratic participation was not worthy of accolades, adding that rhetoric like Snorri’s promotes polarisation.

Statement in support

In light of this ongoing discussion, RÚV contacted the Women Of Multicultural Ethnicity Network (W.O.M.E.N. in Iceland) for a response. The organisation responded with the following statement, offering its support of the English-language council in Mýrdalshreppur.

“As W.O.M.E.N we support the initiative of an English-speaking council as created in Mýrdalshreppur. In doing so Mýrdalshreppur not only creates an opportunity for immigrants to learn about the Icelandic political system but also encourages them to become active participants in our society. Many immigrants in the countryside, especially those working in the tourist sector, are very isolated from society and projects like this help prevent our society from becoming segregated as has already happened in many countries in Europe. Having the possibility to participate with varying proficiencies of Icelandic will increase both the motivation as well as the opportunity to practise and improve one’s Icelandic. We therefore hope that other municipalities will take note and follow this example.”

W.O.M.E.N. in Iceland was founded on October 24, 2003, with the aim to “unite, to express and address the interests and issues of women of foreign origin living in Iceland in order to bring about equality for them as women and as foreigners in all areas of society.”

To learn more about the English-language council in Mýrdalshreppur, read our article Boom Town from the Iceland Review magazine.

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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.