The Walloon municipality of Plombières, with 11,000 inhabitants, consists of the districts of Montzen, Moresnet, Gemmenich, Sippenaeken, Hombourg, and Plombières itself. The municipality lies in the area where potential sites for the Einstein Telescope (ET) are being sought. The mayor, Marie Stassen, is particularly interested in the underground observatory for several reasons.
Do people in Plombières already know a bit about the ET?
“Our municipality lies in the area where they’re looking for potential sites for the ET, so we know we’re in the picture. Local people are talking about it a bit, but aren’t asking too many questions at the moment. However, those questions will come if the municipality receives specific requests from the ET organisation When soil tests were being done here last year, with those special trucks driving around, I actually only got one question: ‘I hope it doesn’t mean they’ll start mining here again, does it?’ I explained that it had nothing to do with mining, but that it was about the ET project. The person I was talking to was very relieved to hear it!”
“We used to be a mining community. The former mining site is now a nature reserve with unusual flora and fauna on the spoil from the old zinc mines. It’s a beautiful area and we obviously want to keep it that way. At the same time, legislation is being drafted at the EU level to reduce Europe’s dependence on raw materials from China. In principle, that could make mining possible again. Mining companies have already shown interest in this region. Everyone in our municipality is against it. We know that mining and the ET are incompatible. Maybe that’s a reason why we desperately need the telescope to be sited here…”
As the mayor, are you only interested in the ET so as to prevent mining?
“No, not at all. I don’t want to make decisions about the telescope only in relation to mining. I hope the scientific discoveries facilitated by the ET will take us another step forward as a species. And if Plombières and its residents can contribute to that, directly and indirectly, it would be something to be proud of.”
What might the other benefits be for your municipality?
“We live in a lovely rural region. Many young people decide to remain here rather than moving away. With Aachen, Liège and Maastricht, you’ve got three big cities just up the road. If the ET were to create additional work and jobs here, it’d be wonderful, but it mustn’t be at the expense of our landscape and nature. Plombières is in favour of proper, healthy ecological development.”
How does the ET fit in with that?
“Of course, we can’t really assess that until the specific proposals and plans are in place. We do understand that once it’s been constructed, you won’t see or hear much of the telescope, if anything. It therefore fits in with protecting our ‘bocage’ landscape – with its mixed woodland, hedgerows, and pasture – which we’re working hard to protect with seven villages in the Flemish municipality of Voeren, our Walloon Land of Herve, and the Heuvelland region in the Dutch province of Limburg. This also means that the telescope can’t become a tourist attraction. What we want here above all is ecological tourism, with peace and quiet being respected. I do wonder what a construction phase lasting several years will mean for our municipality, but I’m basically viewing it positively.”
Could the ET have other consequences?
“One effect you might not immediately think of is cooperation with neighbouring municipalities, including those across the border. Cooperation in the bocage landscape project has brought us closer together in many respects. We have so much in common, but we actually hardly knew one another. I expect the ET to have a similar effect. It’ll not be without discussion, but it’ll bring us closer together.”