Grindavík More Damaged Than Previously Thought

Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, Víðir Reynisson

Rationing of hot water could become necessary in municipalities neighbouring Grindavík due to infrastructure damage,  the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management announced yesterday. Infrastructure repair will be time consuming and costly, RÚV reports.

The January 14 volcanic eruption near Grindavík destroyed three houses, caused crevasses to form across town, and displaced the 3,800 inhabitants for the foreseeable future. The town had already been evacuated once before, on November 10 last year, due to seismic activity. Grindavík residents await a government decision on how they can be helped while displaced.

Half of the hot water wasted

“This is a tricky situation,” Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson said. “The hot water runs through piping under the lava and the main pipe was destroyed. Fortunately a new one was being constructed and has been connected so that part of the town has hot water, but not all of it. Around half the water transported to Grindavík leaks out of the system.”

The nearby Svartsengi geothermal plant is operating at capacity, but due to leakage of 40 to 40 litres per second, other nearby municipalities may have to resort to rationing their hot water. In addition, no cold water is available in town, as the pipes have not been repaired. Therefore, fire hydrants in the area are out of commission.

Crevasse risks remain

Temporary wiring is being used for electricity, but it was disconnected yesterday due to a possible lightning storm. Most roads have been temporarily repaired, but many streets remain closed due to crevasse risks. Due to bad weather and other conditions on site, it has not been determined whether the temporary repairs are robust enough to hold. The situation in Grindavík is not good, according to the department, but the goal is to increase safety to the point where living and working in town becomes possible again.

The Icelandic Red Cross has set up a page with donation options for those wishing to lend support. This includes both one-time donations and repeat subscriptions.

Drinking Water Pipe to Westman Islands Damaged Beyond Repair

Heimaey, Westman Islands

The pipe that transports drinking water to the Westman Islands has been damaged beyond repair. While the pipe is still fully functional, it could break at any moment, leaving Heimaey island’s 4,523 inhabitants without water. The pipe was damaged ten days ago when the trawler Huginn VE unintentionally dropped an anchor on it, which then got stuck on the pipe.

Pipe must be replaced

A notice from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management states that the damage to the pipe stretches across a 300-metre [980-foot] section. Underwater pictures taken to assess the damage show that the pipe has shifted significantly from its former location. “This situation makes the possibility of a temporary repair difficult,” the notice reads. “The only permanent solution is a new pipe.”

The National Police Commissioner and the Chief Superintendent of the Westman Islands have jointly declared a “danger phase” in effect for the Westman Islands due to the situation. Íris Róbertsdóttir, the local mayor, told RÚV that a response plan is in the works to lay down new piping, which she insists will need to be done by next summer at the latest.

Town will not be evacuated

For the time being, there is no need for Westman Islands residents to save or store water. The town’s water tanks store 5,000 tonnes of drinking water, which could last anywhere from several days to over a week if the water pipe does break fully. The local heating is also dependent on the water supply. Westman Islands’ Chief Superintendent Karl Gauti Hjaltason stated that if the damaged water pipe does break, the town would be able to continue heating homes and buildings for up to two weeks with its stored water.

If additional water is necessary, the current plan is to transport it to the Westman islands rather than evacuate residents. The town authorities are, however, reviewing evacuation plans.

Iceland’s Parliament Proposes Tax to Fund Lava Barriers

Grindavík earthquakes crevasse

Iceland’s Parliament held its first reading of a bill that proposes an additional 0.08% property tax to fund the building of lava barriers that would protect key infrastructure on the Reykjanes peninsula from a potential eruption. The town of Grindavík, located on the south side of the peninsula, was evacuated last Friday due to strong earthquakes and a magma dyke forming beneath the town. The town and surrounding area have sustained damage to roads, homes, and power and water infrastructure.

Additional property tax to fund barriers

The parliamentary bill proposes levying an additional tax on homeowners in Iceland equivalent to 0.08% of their property’s fire insurance valuation (brunabótamat) in order to fund the building of lava barriers. The owner of a property worth ISK 100 million [$695,000, €650,000] would therefore pay an additional ISK 8,000 [$56, €52] in taxes per year if the bill is passed in its current form.

“Temporary” tax hike

The tax would be imposed for a period of three years and is projected to funnel nearly ISK 1 billion [$6.95 million, €6.5 million] into state coffers. MPs expressed a strong desire to help the residents of Grindavík and protect infrastructure on the peninsula, which includes the Svartsengi Power Plant. However, 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.

Iceland’s government has imposed such “temporary” taxes in response to natural disasters and to finance disaster prevention measures in the past, many of which later became permanent, as Vísir reports. After the Heimaey eruption in 1973, the government raised sales tax by 2% to help fund rebuilding in the Westman Islands. The hike was supposed to be temporary but was never rescinded.

The second reading of the bill will take place at 7:00 PM tonight. The bill is required to undergo three readings before it can be passed.

Residents allowed to retrieve belongings

All Grindavík residents were permitted to enter the town for a short period this afternoon in order to retrieve belongings and pets. The earthquakes on the peninsula have subsided since Friday and the situation remains largely unchanged since then. The damage caused by the quakes is visible across town, including crevasses across roads and cracks in buildings. While the magma intrusion still stretches across the town, threatening from below, experts are now saying a possible eruption could be smaller than previously feared.

Transport Plan: Single-Lane Bridges to Be Eliminated

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson

At a press conference yesterday, the Minister of Infrastructure unveiled his new transport plan. The plan aims to eliminate single-lane bridges on the Ring Road within 15 years and includes plans to build a new Hvalfjörður tunnel, alongside nine other tunnels. More than ISK 900 billion ($6.5 billion / €6.1 billion) will be invested over the next fifteen years, RÚV reports.

New tunnels and the elimination of single-lane bridges

At a press conference held yesterday at the Nordica Hotel in Reykjavík, Minister of Infrastructure Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson unveiled the ministry’s transport plan for the years 2024 to 2038.

The plan includes a budget of over ISK 900 billion ($6.5 billion / €6.1 billion) for transport projects in the next fifteen years, with approximately ISK 260 billion ($1.9 billion / €1.7 billion) allocated for the next five years. Notable projects include the construction of a second Hvalfjörður tunnel (a road tunnel under the Hvalfjörður fjord in Iceland and a part of the Ring Road) and a tunnel under the Öxnadalsheiði mountain pass. Additionally, the plan aims to eliminate single-lane bridges on the Ring Road within fifteen years.

The transport plan also includes significant road projects such as doubling the Reykjanesbraut road – connecting Reykjavík to Keflavík International Airport – and widening the Suðurlandsvegur and Kjalarnesvegur roads with separated driving lanes. Around 80 kilometres of main roads will also be widened.

There are ten tunnels in the plan:

Fjarðarheiðar tunnel
Siglufjörður tunnel
A second Hvalfjörður tunnel
Tunnel between Ólafsfjörður and Dalvík
Tunnel between Ísafjörður and Súðavík
Broadening of the Breiðdals segment of the Vestfjords tunnel
Seyðisfjörður and Mjóifjörður tunnel
Miklidalur and Hálfdán
Klettháls
Öxnadalsheiði
(Four other tunnels are also under consideration: Reynisfjall, Lónsheiði, Hellisheiði eystri, Berufjarðar and Breiðdalsheiði tunnels.)

An alternate airport fee will also be introduced and a new terminal will be built at Reykjavík Airport. The transport agreement in the capital area will also be updated with funding for the preparation of Sundabraut continuing to be guaranteed.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2026 and be completed in 2031.

Increasing road safety

Sigurður Ingi was quoted in a press release on the government’s website stating that, above all, the focus of the transport plan was increased road safety:

“When I took over as Minister of Transport almost six years ago, the development of transport infrastructure was launched with subsidies towards roads, ports, and airports throughout the country. For the next several years, we were able to invest more in transport infrastructure annually than had previously been done.

Above all, our guiding light, and biggest project, is increasing safety on the roads. As in previous transport plans, the emphasis is on reducing the number of single-lane bridges and crossroads, shortening distances between places and, most importantly, separating opposing lanes on the busiest roads to and from the capital area. We have worked according to a clear safety plan for traffic, shipping, and aviation in cooperation with regulatory bodies and the business world.

Transport is the lifeblood of society and supports a strong economy throughout the country and provides a lot of strength to the settlements. The projects are diverse and range from protective pavement (i.e. bundið slitlag) on connecting roads to ambitious collaborative projects such as Ölfusárbrú and Sundabraut.”

Progress Made on New Þorskafjörður Bridge

westfjords bridge

Significant progress has been made on the new Þorskafjörður bridge since construction began on the project some two years ago. The bridge is part of the Vestfjarðarvegur, which will better connect many communities in this remote region of Iceland.

“We currently have about fifteen people here. Eight excavators, two bulldozers, a dump truck. You name it, whatever is needed. This is a massive project. For example, with the bridge itself, about four thousand cubic meters of concrete were used. 400 tons of steel, so it’s quite significant,” stated project manager Einar Valur Valgarðsson to RÚV.

Einar believes it’s safe to say that the project is nearing completion.

“Now we’re just continuing to connect the western side and finish the filling work,” he continued. “We’re also breaking up rocks.”

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The bridge will be important to the region, as it will shorten the route through Þorskafjörður by some 22 km [13 mi].

It will also increase access to the Barðaströnd region, one of Iceland’s most remote regions. This region is largely dependent on the ferry Baldur which sails across Breiðafjörður. However, the ferry has had technical difficulties in recent years.

The completed bridge will be 260 m in length and will allow travellers to drive through the southern Westfjords on an entirely paved road.

The Þorskafjörður project began in 2021 and has cost roughly ISK 2 billion [$14 million; €13 million]. The project is due for completion in July 2024, but according to project manager Einar, it could well be done before that.

 

New Westfjords Ferry Expected this Autumn

Breiðafjörður ferry Baldur

Regular malfunctions that have plagued the ferry Baldur, which connects West Iceland and the Westfjords, may soon be a thing of the past. RÚV reports that a replacement for the aging ferry is expected to arrive in Iceland in mid-October. The replacement ship named Rust, and like its predecessor, is from Norway.

Baldur is the only ferry that sails between West Iceland’s Snæfellsnes peninsula and the Westfjords. It has experienced regular breakdowns in recent years, occasionally stranding passengers at sea for hours. A journalistic investigation conducted by RÚV programme Kveikur last year found multiple safety issues on board, though many have since been rectified.

Baldur sails between Stykkishólmur, West Iceland, and Brjánslækur in the southern Westfjords, stopping at Flatey island on the way, and is a vital link for the area, particularly in winter, when many roads in the region can become impassable. Stykkishólmur Mayor Jakob Björgvin Jakobsson stated that he expected Baldur’s operator Sæferðir to ensure regular ferry trips until the new ship arrives.

Jakob stated that Rust fulfils modern safety requirements and, unlike Baldur, has a backup engine, meaning that engine failure would not strand the boat at sea. Rust is, however, smaller than Baldur, and can accommodate one fewer loaded truck. Jakob expressed his hopes that the government was arranging the construction of a new ferry that better meets the region’s needs in terms of transport and tourism.

Read more about Iceland’s ferries.

Poor Cyber Security in Iceland Leaves Infrastructure at Risk

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir Icelandic minister

Iceland is lagging when it comes to knowledge and education on cyber security, which could put the country at risk of cyber attacks, RÚV reports. Minister of Universities, Innovation, and Industry Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir says a new university program focusing on cyber security will be established in the coming year or so. Suspicious traffic within Iceland’s network jurisdiction has increased sixfold since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022.

 “We are quite far down in cyber security when compared to other countries, and are maybe among countries that we generally don’t want to compare ourselves to,” Áslaug Arna stated. The lack of security could make Iceland’s infrastructure a target for cyber-attacks, including its energy system or its healthcare system.

 Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, passed amendments to its national security policy two weeks ago. Apart from military threats and cyber security, the policy covers societal threats such as financial security, epidemics, climate change, and natural disasters.

Lack of Funding to Maintain Westfjords Roads

2018 Vatnsnesvegur, A screenshot from RÚV

Many roads in the Westfjords and West Iceland have become dangerous due to lack of maintenance, according to representatives of the Road and Coastal Administration, RÚV reports. In both regions, a lack of funding has left roads in poor shape, posing risks for travellers. Infrastructure funding would need to be quadrupled to complete all of the maintenance and construction currently needed on West Iceland roads, says Pálmi Þór Sævarsson, the area’s regional director for the Road and Coastal Administration.

A driver narrowly avoided a rollover last Sunday on the road between Búðardalur and Bifröst in West Iceland. He stated that he lost control of the car due to the number of potholes in the road. Despite the road’s poor condition, the speed limit was set at 90 km [56 miles] per hour. Sæmundur Kristánsson, the head supervisor of the Road and Coastal Administration in Búðardalur, says the road where the near-rollover occurred is narrower than the standard width. While widening the road is on the agenda, its financing has not yet been approved.

Pálmi Þór says similarly poor road conditions can be found across West Iceland, the Snæfellsnes peninsula, and the Westfjords, and they point to a larger problem across the Icelandic countryside: a lack of funding for road maintenance. Iceland has a “maintenance debt” that has been built up over many years, says Pálmi, and many roads are starting to give way under increasing traffic. The problem needs to be dealt with before it goes from bad to worse.

Deep North Episode 12: Public Transport Funding

Strætó bus Reykjavík miðborgin umferð fólk

With ambitious climate goals, rising oil prices, and an energy transition underway, many Icelandic politicians want to de-centre the private automobile. One might assume that public transportation in Iceland would simultaneously see increased support. Sadly, this has not been the case, and in addition to large budget deficits in 2022, public bus service Strætó has seen significant cuts in service, alongside some of the largest price hikes in recent years.

Read more about the funding of public transportation in Iceland in our recent In Focus piece.

Single-Lane Bridge Replaced with Double-Lane Bridge Near Kirkjubæjarklaustur

kirkjubæjarklaustur bridge iceland

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Minister of Infrastructure, took part in the official opening of the new bridge over Jökulsá on the south coast of Iceland on Friday, October 21.

With the appearance of the new bridge, there will no longer be any one-way bridges between Reykjavík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur, a town on the south coast of Iceland. The improvement is a major one for the region, meaning that the drive east along the south coast will be all the more navigable.

Also present at the opening ceremony were Anton Kári Halldórsson, mayor of Rangárþing eystra, and Einar Freyr Elínarsn, mayor of Mýrdalshreppur municipality.

After the ceremony, minister Sigurður was the first to drive over the new bridge, inaugurating this latest addition to Iceland’s road system.

In his address at the ceremony, minister Sigurður outlined his ministry’s plans to get rid of single-lane bridges throughout the nation: “Today we move one step closer to that goal. Four years ago, 37 bridges on the Ring Road were single-lane, now there are 32, and there will be 31 when the new bridge opens today. And there is no let up in construction. I am hopeful that we will be able to reduce the number of them to 29 right before the end of the year, with new bridges openings on both Hverfisfljót and Núpsvötn later in the year. There are also three single-lane bridges that will be diverted around the Ring Road when traffic is allowed over the new bridge over the Hornafjörður River.”

According to information from the Road Administration, the new bridge is some 163 m [535 ft] long, with a total width of 10 m [33 ft]. The bridge it replaces was built in 1967, part of the construction of Iceland’s Ring Road.