Military base in the middle of San Rossore Park, with PNRR funds: all against Draghi

President Draghi ends up in the storm for signing a dpcm that effectively imposed, without public discussion, the construction of a huge military base in the middle of San Rossore Park, against the negative opinion of the park. All against, from the mayor to the PD to associations.

The idea of building a new military base in the middle of the beautiful Migliarino-San Rossore-Massaciuccoli Natural Park has not been taken well. Prime Minister Mario Draghi has come under fire in recent days because the expansion of Italy’s military capacity apparently should not stop at increasing military spending to 2 percent of GDP in the coming years, an idea that has already provoked political clashes: now the idea of planting a base in Coltano, near Pisa, inside the San Rossore Park, a protected nature reserve, is being discussed. The project has already been authorized, although the park and local authorities have given a negative opinion. The base, which will house the 1st Carabinieri Parachute Regiment “Tuscania,” will be built with funds from the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRP), a circumstance that allows it to bypass normal authorization procedures.

It is, for all intents and purposes, a decision imposed by Gov: Decree of the President of the Council of Ministers (dpcm) of Jan. 14, 2022 (“Identification of works intended for national defense”), published in the Official Gazette on March 23, states that the infrastructural intervention for the construction of the headquarters of the Special Intervention Group, the 1st Carabinieri Parachute Regiment “Tuscania” and the Canine Center, in Pisa - Coltano area, is “identified as a ’work intended for national defense,’ to which the procedural simplification measures provided by Art. 44 of Decree-Law No. 77 of May 31, 2021, converted with amendments by Law No. 108 of July 29, 2021.” The May 31, 2021 decree-law contains the governance of the NRP, and Article 44 provides for a number of procedural simplifications for public works of particular complexity or significant impact: the special procedure stipulates that a central role will fall to the Higher Council of Public Works and that the timeframe for authorization procedures for works that fall under the article will take on a major acceleration.

The storm against Draghi came about because there was no public discussion around the Coltano base: the decision simply rained down from above. Yet the impact of the project will be considerable: we are talking about a huge area, which may cover up to 730 thousand square meters, and which will rise in an area that in the past was already occupied by military buildings (these were facilities linked to the nearby military base of Camp Darby, which depends on the General Staff of the Italian Army but where U.S. units are operating: the current fenced area is 54 thousand square meters). It could thus be considered a rehabilitation and extension of an existing military area: the base will see regimental headquarters, two firing ranges, military housing, a helicopter landing strip, training buildings, warehouses, offices and other facilities.

According to San Rossore Park President Lorenzo Bani, the base’s impact on the protected natural area will be “devastating,” he told The Post. “The environmental opinion made by the engineers is very clear: it basically says that the impact will be devastating. We are in a protected area, at risk of flooding, with a landscape constraint and an environmental constraint. It’s absurd to make a new base here, among other things with significant land consumption.” Bani, reports The Post, had already pointed out to representatives of the Carabinieri Corps in October that the project is not sustainable. Since then, again according to the newspaper’s reconstruction, no one has been heard from. And the Park has thus found itself with the imposed project. But the plans were totally different, said Bani: “In our plans there was the creation of a wetland through flooding, to turn it into an area dedicated to birdlife. There were so many other suitable places to build a military base: abandoned state-owned areas, disused barracks. I am very annoyed that they chose a protected area, without a path of participation with institutions and the citizenry. I do not doubt the importance of national security, and I believe that the government’s decisions were made because of the conflict in Ukraine: going back is very difficult, if not impossible.”

Against the government (no member has commented on the military base project) has come a barrage of criticism. Opposing it is the Pisa branch of the Democratic Party, for which it is a “wrong choice”: “The Democratic Party of Pisa,” reads a note dated April 10, “considers wrong the choice to settle in the territory of the Park of San Rossore, Migliarino and Massaciuccoli, in Coltano, a new large base. Pisa lives with a strong military presence on its territory, which has always been part of its identity. For this reason, there is no opposition to initiatives to rationalize and consolidate this presence, especially if in response to understandable logistical needs, due to its proximity to the airport and major infrastructure. What is unconvincing, however, is the location of this intervention in the protected area, which would be heavily transformed by it, with the urbanization of a very large area (more than seventy hectares, with more than four hundred thousand cubic meters of construction) with structures of great impact. We consider equally erroneous the method by which this decision was reached, which completely bypassed the territory and ignored the understandable objections of the Park Authority, well represented by President Bani in his stances. The Democratic Party of Pisa calls on the City Council and Mayor Conti, who were incomprehensibly absent from the public discussion, to take a clear and unambiguous position on this matter, defending the prerogatives of the governing bodies of the territory and defending the integrity of the Park. We believe it is necessary to engage in a discussion with national decision makers, aimed at seeking alternatives, thoroughly evaluating possibilities for downsizing and compensation.” The Pd has let it be known that it will take initiatives of confrontation with citizens, to listen and explain the reasons for our position. In the meantime, we demand that the municipality take an initiative and initiate a discussion at the institutional level, strongly and loyally supporting the interests of the territory.

For Rifondazione Comunista and Una Città in Comune this is “A veritable citadel for war. ”Despite the fact that all the entities in the area claim or pretend not to have been made aware of the matter,“ the two groups write in a note, ”or as in the case of Mayor Conti and Regional President Giani keep silent, the first details of the project are beginning to emerge: it is 440 thousand cubic meters of new construction to be built inside the protected territory of the Park, on a total area of 730 thousand square meters: townhouses, shooting ranges, buildings, training infrastructure, warehouses, offices, car washes.“ This is an intervention for which ”money will be taken from the NRP and as of today we do not know how many millions of euros will be spent to destroy a park area and further militarize the territory, with which we are really at the paradox: the resources of the NRP are not invested to protect and enhance nature reserves, but to cement them and fill them with war equipment [...]. At stake here is the idea of the country, of how public resources are used, of what economy for the territory, of what future for our city that is increasingly being transformed into a logistics platform for war and surrounded by a compact crust of concrete. This project just has to be stopped, appealing to the indignation of the whole country, not just Pisa and Tuscany. Did Conti and Giani know? Why do they continue to remain silent? One thing, however, is clear: we will oppose in every way the start of these works with a strong mobilization."

Condemnation also from Legambiente Pisa, which “laments the sacrifice of a vast area that has been a protected area for over 40 years by decision of the Region and the State itself, which is now sacrificing it to military needs. We recall that the Park Authority, as stated in Article 2 of its statute, has as its purpose the conservation and enhancement of the naturalistic-environmental heritage. These are objectives of peace with nature in a context of peace among people and peoples. Legambiente Pisa hopes that the aims of the Park will always be respected and kept as a priority. The settlement is expected to occupy an agricultural area with further land consumption, a fragile resource that is not sufficiently considered, as ISPRA (Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale) warns, recalling its many ecosystem services such as climate regulation, mitigation of extreme hydrological phenomena, and maintenance of biodiversity, now also protected by our constitutional charter after the recent amendment of Art. 9, which therefore includes its protection even among the fundamental principles of our civic action.” Positions of firm opposition to the Coltano base have also come from the CGIL, Potere al Popolo, the 5 Star Movement of Pisa (which speaks of “waste”), USB Pisa, and the League (regional councilor Elena Meini believes it is an unsuitable choice since it has “a deleterious environmental impact”: Meini has put forward a motion to the council). In addition, Il Tirreno reports that the Pd secretary, Enrico Letta, a Pisan, is also reportedly against the project.

In addition, it appears that even the City of Pisa has not received acts from the government, as stated on April 12 by Pisa Mayor Michele Conti: “On the matter of the military base that should be built in Coltano,” said the first citizen speaking during question time at City Hall, “the City has not received official acts from the Ministry of Defense. We only know the government decree signed by Draghi and the minister, Lorenzo Guerini and no project has been sent to the offices of the urban planning department, we do not know its content except through what we have read in the newspapers these days.” The mayor, of the League, also expressed disappointment with the way the “affair has unfolded, which is perplexing in the way it has developed and mortifies local institutions and the entire city: urban planning is a serious matter and, all the more so for interventions that involve land consumption and significant environmental impact, territories and communities must be involved in advance, facing a shared path to explain opportunities and criticalities of a project, without lowering it from above.” For the mayor, “adequate ’information in the coming months’ cannot suffice, but the community must be fully involved in the choice: while not being prejudicially opposed to military installations on the territory of Pisa, I recall that in Pisa there has long been a fruitful coexistence with the armed forces, a source of pride for the city, and understanding the reason of state for works intended for national defense. I interpret myself from the sentiment of the community in saying that I am against that kind of intervention in an area that falls within the Natural Park, in the announced size of about 70 hectares.” Soon, the mayor will request a meeting with the Ministry of Defense.

The case is also mounting in Parliament: MEPs Yana Chiara Ehm and Simona Suriano have already filed a parliamentary question for written answer to Prime Minister Mario Draghi, asking for the economic details of the project, whether the opinions of the entities have been acquired, and what private areas are affected by the infrastructure (“the area affected,” the two MEPs write, “is comparable with that of a municipality and is located entirely within a’regional protected area, the Migliarino-San Rossore-Massaciuccoli Park, which is protected for its naturalistic and landscape values that would be irreparably affected by the construction of the new infrastructure”), while Nicola Fratoianni of Sinistra italiana followed his colleagues by filing a question addressed to Ministers Lorenzo Guerini (Defense) and Roberto Cingolani (Ecological Transition) to reiterate that “despite the fact that thePark Authority gave a negative opinion to the project, the government went ahead and imposed a project that has nothing to do with resilience and ecological transition.”

The reassurances of the Carabinieri, who intervened on April 13 to make it known that the base would be a Low Environmental Impact project, were not enough: “The site identified to host the base of the Special Intervention Group (GIS), the 1st ’Tuscania’ Parachute Regiment and the K9 Center,” the Pisa Provincial Command says in a note, “is partly already built (it houses a former radar base, now in disuse) and for the rest is classified as an ’agricultural area of environmental recovery’ as it falls in the so-called ’agricultural area of the external areas’ of the Migliarino - San Rossore - Massaciuccoli Regional Park. The work will have a low environmental impact in light of a number of considerations: the base site will have a total area of 72.9 hectares, but 28 will be maintained as green space, enhanced with extensive planting of native vegetation to increase carbon dioxide absorption. Of the remaining 45 hectares (0.19% of the Park), buildings will cover only 5 hectares (0.02% of the Park); the remaining 40 hectares will be used for roads and services, with suitable works of regulation (so as not to change the water balance of the site) and vegetation. The design criteria pursue a very low environmental and landscape impact; all buildings will have a maximum height of 3 stories and will ensure almost zero emissions by using photovoltaic and solar thermal heating and air conditioning systems, without the use of fossil fuels. The entire site will, therefore, be able to be considered an energy community close to relative self-sufficiency.” At the base, the Pisan Carabinieri point out, “several hundred Carabinieri will work daily, of whom many will reside there with their families with the consequent improvement of the control of the conditions of public order and safety; moreover, courses and delegations will be hosted, producing a constant flow of visitors at the local accommodation facilities, with the consequent benefits on the economic induced activities of the Pisan suburbs. Finally, the base will be equipped with a kindergarten and important gymnastic-sports facilities, which will also be made available to the community. In fact, the work will give added value to the park, being able to be integrated within the tourist-environmental routes of the same and in particular of the Coltano area, proposing within the area concerned the establishment of an Environmental Education Center, a Museum of Environmental Crime (with particular reference to poaching and forest fires) and a nature trail (open to people with disabilities) including a botanical garden and an arboretum. The educational and cultural offer, for the benefit of schoolchildren and, more generally, the community, is aimed at further enhancing the area concerned, harmonizing with the cultural excellences already present, consisting of the Villa Medicea and the Palazzina Marconi.”

Meanwhile, citizens are taking action: Rossella Catanese, professor of Cinema, Photography and Television, has launched a petition on asking everyone to say no to the Coltano base. “In addition to being opposed to the warmongering spirit that has animated the work of this government in the last month (such as increasing military spending while reducing the resources that should have instead supported citizens after two disastrous years of pandemic), which goes against Article 11 of the Italian Constitution that repudiates war,” the text reads, “among the reasons for our radical rejection are: the mission and purposes of the PNRR; the statute of the Park Authority. The transformation into a military base of a nature reserve, ”which for over 40 years has been recognized as a protected area by decision of the Region and the State itself, goes against the ’green’ mission and has nothing to do with the vocation of ’resilience,’ now readily sacrificed to military needs. On the second point, it should be pointed out that the Park Authority, as stated in Article 2 of the statute, has as its purpose the conservation and enhancement of the naturalistic-environmental heritage. In a historical phase such as the present, which witnesses the consequences of wicked environmental impact, consequences neglected for decades, it is the duty of all citizens a responsible defense of the precious environmental resources of an increasingly fragile ecosystem. Among the properties of parks and nature reserves are climate regulation, mitigation of hydrological phenomena and maintenance of biodiversity - also protected by the Constitution." The petition has already reached more than 37,000 signatures (2,000 of them on April 13 alone) and is set to increase.

Pictured: the fence of the former military area in Coltano. Photo Wikimedia/Gigius123

Military base in the middle of San Rossore Park, with PNRR funds: all against Draghi
Military base in the middle of San Rossore Park, with PNRR funds: all against Draghi

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