Conducting civic monitoring for a major public works project is no easy task. This is something the students at Leonardo Sciascia–Enrico Fermi Secondary School in Sant’Agata di Militello, in the province of Messina, discovered for themselves when, during the 2016-2017 school year, they researched a project under way in the town for the construction of a new port for trade and tourism, and specifically for the construction of a breakwater and the extension of the wharf. Sant’Agata di Militello is seen as the port of entry for the Nebrodi mountain range behind the town, which overlooks the Aeolian Islands.
The project monitored by the students, valued at EUR 6.2 million and related to the 2007-2013 programming cycle, represented the first tranche, now completed, of a broader investment, for which the municipality obtained new financing under the 2014-2020 cycle for work to complete the port, valued at EUR 35 million, which began in February 2018.
“When we began our research, within the scope of a work-study programme, the project had completely run aground,” noted Mariella Giuffrè, the educator who assisted the #fermialporto [team name and hashtag that loosely translates as “standstill at the port”].
“So we talked to just about everyone, from the town administrators to the port authority, and even sought help from a local broadcasting company, Onda TV.
With them, we interviewed seasoned fishermen to have them tell us about their expectations. We tied civic monitoring with journalism with the involvement of a local journalist and author, Franco Blandi, who helped guide the students.”
Alessia Scilipoti, a student on the #fermialporto team, remembers those interviews to this day, five years later. Now 23, she lives in Milan, where she is studying for a master’s degree in flute, having already earned an undergraduate degree in Engineering. “We were struck by the climate of insecurity in which the fishermen had to work, the failure to complete the work on the port, which made the power of the sea uncontrollable and put their boats at risk. The prevailing sentiment I felt was disappointment,” she said.
The disappointment of the #fermialporto students also concerned the reconstruction of the project’s history. “The initial idea dates back to the 80s, then everything went very slowly, with various phases and contracts ending badly. But after the work we did, the works did start back up again. It’s likely that our civic monitoring stirred a bit of interest among those responsible,” Alessia pointed out.
Ms Giuffrè added, “With the help of a change in city administration, the new works managed to be completed in 2018, and we thought that this was the right time, that something was starting to happen. Even the mayor, who, at first, would always pull a face when he saw us coming, then started giving explanations and showing us documentation.” The sole head of the project was very helpful with the students, who came back two years later to check on the project’s progress and to produce a second Monithon report, published in May 2019 within the scope of the initiative ASOC Experience.
“Work is still under way. In the meantime, the students have left high school, and we haven’t gone back to check.
Until we circled back to raise public awareness and promote meetings with local residents, it seemed that everything was moving along. Now, it looks like it’s run aground again,” Giuffrè noted.
“We did what we could,” she added, recalling the challenges of conducting civic monitoring on such a major undertaking for a town the size of Sant’Agata, which numbers just over 10,000 inhabitants. However, both Alessia and Ms Giuffrè agree that the project needs to be completed and would change the face of the entire Nebrodi nature park, to which Sant’Agata di Militello is considered the port of entry.