Thu, Sep 01, 2011 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE:Dutch mull building artificial mountain

Reuters, UTRECHT, NETHERLANDS

What started as a joke about creating an artificial mountain in the utterly flat Netherlands may actually be feasible.

That was not what semi-professional cyclist-cum-journalist Thijs Zonneveld had expected when he posted a column on a popular Dutch news Web site on Aug. 5, in which he laughingly urged his countrymen to create their own mountain with alpine slopes, meadows and villages.

“It was not serious, but the next day there was such a serious response from people who had actually been thinking about it and calculating stuff that it made me realize I was not the only one who’d had that idea,” Zonneveld, 30, said.

The highest natural ground in the Netherlands is at Vaalserberg in the southern province of Limburg, with an altitude of just 323m, making it little more than a hill in the low-lying country in the eyes of most people.

TALLER THAN BURJ

However, Zonneveld dreams of an artificial mountain 5km wide and between 1km and 2km in height, which would surpass the world’s tallest manmade building, the 828m high Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai.

The idea of artificial mountains is not new.

In 2009, a German architect proposed erecting a 1,000m high mountain at the site of the old Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, but had to settle for a 60m hill as the challenges set in.

Zonneveld has yet to figure out exactly how the Dutch mountain would be designed and built, what materials would be used, where it would be located and, crucially, how much it would cost. He declined to put even a rough price tag on it.

Yet his call has resonated with the enterprising Dutch, whose engineering prowess has allowed them to defend land that lies below sea level from the raging waters and to engage in major engineering feats abroad, such as building artificial islands in Dubai.

On Tuesday, Dutch engineering groups such as Oranjewoud and Bartels, along with sport organizations, such as the Dutch skiing association and the Dutch climbing and mountaineering association, met to ponder the details.

“The project is feasible and we the Dutch have a lot of experience in moving soil and sand around for our land reclamation projects. It just needs to gather a snowball of support,” Oranjewoud project manager Anthony van Dongen said.

Estimates of the cost range from a few billion US dollars all the way up to US$300 billion. If and when the project takes off, it would therefore provide a major boost to the Dutch construction sector, which has been hit by a property downturn.

“Technically this can be done and the space can also be found. The biggest hurdles will be financing and environmental problems, but these will be tackled in the coming months by these companies,” Zonneveld said.

Zonneveld said he had already spoken to several investors who saw commercial opportunities in offering sports, leisure resorts, developing real estate and even producing renewable energy by erecting wind mills on the mountain.

“People may think this is a publicity stunt, but this is not true. Publicity is the means because if people don’t know about it, it cannot be done. The goal however is to build this mountain,” Zonneveld said.

NATIONAL PRIDE

Zonneveld said that even though his editorial kicked off the initiative and he was now devoting up to 16 hours a day working on the project, he does not care what the mountain is called, but suggested it could be named after the largest proprietor.

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