The alleged risk of closing the Apuan marble quarries: here's how things really are

A lot of misinformation is circulating about the implications of the Tuscany Region's Landscape Plan for marble quarries. Let's shed some light and try to dispel any concerns.

In recent days, we have read dozens and dozens of articles with almost apocalyptic tones about the alleged imminent closure of marble quarries in the Apuo-versiliese area, articles in which the destruction of the local economy and the loss of thousands of jobs are feared. For example, this TG1 report, where it is said that “to safeguard the environment, Carrara’s marble quarries should be closed.” And again, “Apuan quarries are at risk”(GoNews), “Marble quarries at risk of closure”(La Nazione), “At risk Apuan quarries”(Ansa). There is also talk about it in art magazines: an article published in Artemagazine, moreover one-sided in that it only exposes the reasons of marble entrepreneurs (and also talks about quarries that in ancient times “gave work to thousands of slaves”...who knows if there were also unions), says that “the most famous marble quarries in the world are at risk of closure.”

But what is the source of all this apprehension? From the indications contained in the Region of Tuscany’s Piano di indirizzo territoriale con valenza di piano paesaggistico, whose adoption was deliberated on January 17, 2014: all documents related to the plan can be downloaded from the Region’s official website by linking to this page. It is not our intention to do a complete press review of everything that has been written about the plan: with this article we only intend to debunk the major clichés that are being put forward in the media these days by those interested in keeping quarrying activity on current standards (and we have already talked in several articles about the effects of such activity on the landscape and the economy of Carrara and its surroundings: at this link you can find an introduction on the subject and links to all our articles on the subject). Let us therefore go in order.

Closure of marble quarries. The regulations of the landscape plan state verbatim as follows: “the Region shall promote the progressive reduction of said activities [quarrying activities] in favor of functions consistent with the values and potential of the territorial system concerned, through an Integrated Development Project, to be defined by subsequent act, which also identifies the various measures that can be activated for this purpose.” It follows that no one, therefore, is intent on closing the quarries immediately, whose activities will by no means cease overnight. It will be a gradual reduction of activities, perhaps leading to their closure in the future, but closure tout-court, in the document on the discipline of the plan, is still not mentioned. In any case, it would still be about the “mining activities, located in the contiguous areas interclosed in the territory of the Apuan Alps Regional Park”: that is, a part of all active quarries, that is, those located in the Apuan Alps Regional Park. Listing how many and which are these quarries (in total, 48), Il Tirreno took care of this in its article. In Carrara, for example, there would be only 7 out of 70 quarries currently in operation.

Loss of jobs. The president of the Apuan Park, Alberto Putamorsi (opposed to the Region’s plan), speaks of 1,500 jobs at risk. Marble entrepreneurs go as far as an unlikely number of 5,000 jobs. Given that it is very difficult to estimate the real number of people employed in the stone industry since there is no in-depth research on the subject, we can take a 2004 study carried out by Internazionale Marmi e Macchine S.p.A. for the Region of Tuscany and titled Stone Industrial District: reality and future prospects. In the report, some data are given about the number of people employed in the stone industry, estimated (as of the year 2000) at 6,622 employees divided among 1,093 companies (including quarries and companies involved in activities related to quarrying), but throughout the Apuan district (which includes district of Massa and Carrara, Versilia, Garfagnana, and also some companies in the province of La Spezia and other areas). A number that, moreover, is drastically decreasing since 1981, when the marble industry employed 9,673 people: and given the crisis in the sector, especially in marble processing (exports, on the other hand, are growing, as it is cheaper for marble entrepreneurs to have the material processed in countries where processing costs less, rather than locally), the number will probably have remained at the same levels in the years to follow (in a 2005 communiqué from the Province of Massa and Carrara, it was mentioned that there were about 6,500 people employed for 200 active quarries). How is it possible, then, that out of just under 7,000 employees, only 5,000 would be employed in activities within the Apuan Park, or 48 quarries (according to the Tirreno) out of about 200 (i.e., the total number of active quarries according to the Province of Massa and Carrara)?

Damage to the economy. Marble entrepreneurs fear damage to the local economy that would result from the adoption of the plan. It has already been seen that the Tuscany Region has in mind, first, a gradual reduction of mining activities (so there would be no traumatic repercussions), and then the implementation of an “Integrated Development Project.” Translated: the region plans to invest in order to reconvert the Apuan economy and create new development models. It is worth mentioning the plan proposed by the Salviamo le Apuane association, called the “Plan Program of Alternative Economic Development for the Apuan Alps”(PIPSEA), which can be downloaded from here, where it is clearly spelled out that “no possibility is given for an interruption of marble quarrying, i.e. the destruction of the Apuan Alps , except through the creation of an economic alternative that would create enough jobs to sustain the employment shock resulting from the closure of the quarries,” and that “a quarry closure solution that involves abandoning the Apuan Alps to degradation, neglect and depopulation is not acceptable.” All with the aim of avoiding the loss of jobs and creating a development model based on long-lasting activities (identified as: agricultural, pastoral and agribusiness activities, redevelopment of quality handicrafts, tourist, hiking and cultural activities, artistic activities, thermal activities, biomass production). In the plan there is a transition phase where the gradual decrease of marble-related activities will be linked to the increase of new activities.

No one wants jobs to disappear, and we all understand the concerns of marble workers, even if those concerns often appear to be fomented by overly alarmist and uninformed articles. Conversely, it is a matter of reconciling respect for work with respect for the environment: this is a challenge for our area, a challenge that will have to be fought and won, because the future of these lands depends on it.