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.

Proposed Sand Mine Would Operate Trucks at 7- to 8-Minute Intervals Along Ring Road

Mýrdalssandur

Large transport trucks could be driving along Iceland’s South Coast at 7- to 8-minute intervals – 24 hours a day – if German company EP Power Minerals’ plan to open a sand mine east of Vík is realised. The sand would be exported to Europe and possibly North America, where it would be used as an additive in cement. The company plans to ship the material from Þorlákshöfn, but the local mayor says the town does not have adequate facilities for its storage and EP Power Minerals is yet to apply for a lot in the harbour.

An environmental evaluation of the proposal published earlier this month judged the project’s impact on traffic and noise pollution to be “considerably negative.” Its impact on birdlife, plant life, and the geology of the area was, however, evaluated as “insignificantly negative.”

Former landowners tried to sell to Icelandic state

EP Power Minerals purchased the land where the proposed mine is to be located in 2020. Some 15 km [9.3 mi] east of Vík í Mýrdal, the property stretches from Kötlujökull glacier down to the coast, and consists mostly of sand plains.

The property was listed for sale in 2016 by its former owners, three siblings who have stated that they made several unsuccessful attempts to sell it to the Icelandic state. The land was sold to EP Power Minerals through the company Mýrdalssandur ehf., in which three Icelanders own a 10% share (through the company Lásastígur ehf.).

Trucks at 7- to 8-minute intervals

The proposed mine would be located by Hafursey mountain and north of the Ring Road, which runs through the property. The proposed mining area covers 15.5 square kilometres and it is estimated that the usable sand within the area measures around 146 million cubic metres. According to the mining plans, there should be enough material within that area for 100 years of mining.

EP Power Minerals plans to transport the sand by truck to Þorlákshöfn. The amount of material would entail a full truck leaving the mine every 15 minutes, and empty trucks returning from Þorlákshöfn at the same rate. This means that transport trucks will be driving at 7-8 minute intervals 24 hours a day along the ring road between Vík and Hveragerði, as well as on the roads between Hveragerði and Þorlákshöfn.

Concerns about impact on traffic and roads

Residents of the capital area and South Iceland have expressed concern at the impact this transport would have on traffic and roads in the area. Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, CEO of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, also expressed concern about the impact the mine and its associated traffic would have.

“There has been talk about the tourism industry in that regard, but it’s recognised that one heavy truck such as those that transport fish between regions, it damages the road to the equivalent of 10,000 Yaris cars or small rental cars,” Jóhannes Þór told Vísir, expressing doubt as to whether road infrastructure could handle so much heavy transport. He added that a project such as the mine would affect the experience of tourists in the area.

Environmental impacts considered negligible

The environmental evaluation conducted by Efla and published earlier this month judged many of the mine’s negative impacts to be negligible. Its impact on plant life and birdlife in the area was considered “insignificantly negative,” as the sand plains in question are not a habitat for endangered or protected plant species and the mine would not greatly impact nesting areas.

Despite the fact that the mine would have a “direct and permanent effect on the sedimentation of Mýrdalssandur,” the effect would only be on a “tiny percentage of the total formation,” lowering the surface by 10 metres at a site where the sand is 120 metres thick. Therefore, Efla’s assessment was that the overall impact on geological formations would be “insignificantly negative.” The same was determined of the mine’s impact on tourism and outdoor recreation in the area.

The project’s climate impact was considered to be “considerably positive,” as the material produced would replace cement clinker and would therefore reduce carbon emissions due to concrete production by 800 million kg of CO2 equivalents annually (when emissions due to transportation are taken into account).

Tourist Dies at Reynisfjara, Group Caught by Waves in the Same Spot the Next Day

Reynisfjara black sand beach

A tourist died on Friday after being swept out to sea by a wave at Reynisfjara beach, just outside Vík í Mýrdal in South Iceland. RÚV reports that the man, who was in his eighties, was in the ocean for about an hour before he could be rescued and was dead by the time the Coast Guard helicopter was able to reach him.

The victim was from Canada and part of a larger tour group with his wife, who was also caught by the same wave. The tour guide was able to grab the woman and drag her to safety, but her husband was not so lucky. Rescue teams from South Iceland and the Westman Islands were called to the scene, as well as the Coast Guard. Conditions at sea were quite dangerous, however, with very high winds that prevented the Coast Guard helicopter from reaching the man for an hour.

The Red Cross’ trauma team was called in to provide services for the woman and her travel companions.

Believed they could swim ashore

Only a day later, a group of foreign tourists, including a family from Germany, were swept up in a wave in the same spot where the Canadian couple was caught on Friday. No one was seriously injured, but apparently, the group believed they could swim back to land if they were caught by the waves.

The upsetting incident was witnessed by tour guide Hrafnhildur Faulk.

Hrafnhildur saw six people get swept off their feet. Five managed to pull themselves to safety quickly; the last man lingered. “I was waiting for him to get up and run,” recounted Hrafnhildur, but the man stayed in the surf, looking for his glasses in the sand.

“He seemed pretty unphased, considering,” she continued. “I think I would have been more alarmed.”

Hrafnhildur said that she frequently sees people putting themselves in harm’s way on the shore at Reynisfjara, even running into the waves with small children. “Naturally, you run over and intervene,” she said. “But unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

An all-too common occurrence

There have been many drownings at Reynisfjara over the years when visitors, generally foreign tourists, are swept into the ocean by powerful “sneaker waves.” In May, a Spanish tourist nearly drowned after intentionally wading into the surf to have photos taken, but thankfully, he was able to pull himself to shore. Last November, a young Chinese woman was not so lucky. Between 2007 and 2019, three people drowned at the popular beach.

That year, the government began to conduct a risk assessment and closed part of the beach, although many visitors ignored the closure. Much of the beach remains open, although with prominent warnings and explanations of the very real danger posed by the sneaker waves are posted in several languages.

Gas Pollution Warning Near Mýrdalsjökull

Mýrdalsjökull

The Icelandic Met Office warns there is a risk of gas pollution to the east of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, not far from the village of Vík í Mýrdal, in South Iceland. In a post on its Facebook page, the IMO urges travellers in the area to be cautious, particularly in low-lying areas.

The gas pollution is thought to be a consequence of geothermal water leaking from under the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap and seeping into the Múlakvísl river. This has increased the river’s conductivity in recent days. Travellers in the area around the ice cap have also reported a significant smell of sulfur (hydrogen sulfide).

“Due to geothermal activity below the glacier, meltwater accumulates beneath cauldrons on the glacier and at a certain point finds a way from there to the glacial rivers,” explains the post. “It is quite common that it happens during the summer when surface melt on the glacier has started.”

 

Large Rockslide in Reynisfjara Beach

A large rockslide fell from Reynisfjall mountain onto Reynisfjara beach this morning. The easternmost part of the beach, which is a popular tourist destination, has been closed off by the police. The rest of the beach remains open. Travellers are asked to respect the closure, as a number of travellers were spotted crossing the yellow police border which zoned off the area. The area which the rockslide fell on is often filled with travellers. Luckily, it is not known that there were any travellers in the area at the time.

A policeman from the South Iceland police arrived at the scene this morning and witnessed the remains of the rockslide, which appears to have been significant in size. The Icelandic Met Office has dispatched an avalanche watch employee to inspect the area. Sveinn Brynjólfsson, from the avalanche watch, stated that the rock is clearly unstable. “We will try to assess it today and figure out whether there are more fractures which rock could fall from,” Sveinn stated that rock slides fall from the mountain quite regularly and that the weather is not directly connected to the event. “Large rock slides have fallen from the area which faces the populated areas,” he stated.

Yesterday, a number of rocks fell down from the mountain onto the beach and at least three visitors were injured. Among them was a child which injured its foot and a young male who sustained a head injury. The injuries are not considered severe at this point in time. Today’s rock slide is believed to have been at the very least several tons. The sea closest to the area where the rock slide fell has turned a brown colour.

https://www.facebook.com/logreglasudurland/videos/679821225824713/?__xts__%5B0%5D=68.ARCOlZ1t1Pjlk9OI2PHW-MggMkJS40z1l6jH9i_oTraR4GaM0T6b22-lsAq6Aacje2CgKWLd6zTA4qIALBQfqKIvddlKQshZhuzhSUDUgf2LaTFVajGtMaSybcfYbXG7UsmI92DofFQNORSCFH54uXVkB-Z4KqmsJjmoPoX1wzpPAs8TQThz8DGOv_kQMxIjXPERBI2VsLNqF7A-shaCmHBSIPb2KUrJeXlu8YVu6Ed0PemMnP_2lVhkLPEcSVvIUYm3czoADmOsZU1FeJorMOCshM65Ct8CmCDk5p0udEEwefqXrnpYBp5ZYmRTiwxmNZWHYJx54sClYeP46phMlw5EpP87h0uTrD4&__tn__=-R.
The video shows the area yesterday after a number of rocks fell down the steep slope onto the beach. Today’s rock slide was significantly larger

A popular yet dangerous destination
The black sand Reynisfjara beach is one of the most popular traveller destinations in Iceland. Situated in South Iceland, close to Vík í Mýrdal, it is home to the Reynisdrangar sea stacks not far from the shore as well as basalt columns inside a cave on the beach. The ripper waves in the area are especially dangerous, so travellers are advised to stay out of the water. In 2016, a fatal accident took place as a Chinese traveller lost his life after having been ripped out to sea.

Birds of a Different Feather Seen Flocking Together

Geese and swans were observed flying together in V-formation over Vík í Mýrdal in South Iceland on Thursday, RÚV reports. While it’s unusual to see two different species flocking together, according to a local ornithologist it is not unheard of.

Birna Viðarsdóttir posted the picture to a Facebook group dedicated to Icelandic bird life and it quickly garnered a great deal of attention, as well as a fair amount of skepticism – particularly since the photo was taken on April 1, April Fools’ Day. “A number of people have asked whether it’s been photoshopped,” she told RÚV, “but it wasn’t.”

Ornithologist Arnór Þórir Sigfússon says that it’s uncommon to see different kinds of birds flying together in V-formation, but it has been known to happen. Although swans and geese both migrate to Iceland from Great Britain around this time of year, Arnór Þór thinks it’s unlikely that this particular group of birds did so together the whole way, mostly because geese and swans fly at different speeds. He said he thought it more likely that the swans in Birna’s picture had joined a group of geese, rather than vice versa.

Arnór Þór also noted that different types of geese, such as graylags and pink-footed geese, are known to fly in formation together sometimes, but this is harder for an observer on the ground to see.

Travel Advisory in Southwest Iceland

Snowstorm Iceland

Blizzard conditions are expected throughout today in Southwest Iceland, according to the Icelandic Met Office. Snow, strong winds, and poor visibility are forecasted throughout the region, including in Reykjavík, Keflavík, and east to Vík í Mýrdal. A travel advisory is in force until 5.00pm this evening.

Snow and lowering temperatures are expected in most parts of the country today. Travellers are advised to check road and weather conditions before heading out and use public transportation when possible.