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This Proposed Plan to Rebuild Notre Dame Using Wood From Ghana Is Causing Controversy

Sustainability News National Parks Art + Architecture
by Eben Diskin Oct 10, 2019

There have been all kinds of creative solutions proposed to rebuild parts of Notre Dame, after its spire and roof were devastated by a blaze in April, but using wood from an underwater forest might actually be the most effective. A Ghanian company called Kete Krachi Timber Recovery believes that wood from the massive tropical trees beneath Lake Volta would be sturdy enough to use in the cathedral’s reconstruction. They were submerged in 1965 when construction of Ghana’s Akosombo Dam flooded part of the river basin, and because the wood has been preserved from decay, it is much stronger than ordinary wood.

There are, however, concerns that harvesting this wood could have a negative impact on the local ecosystem, potentially polluting the water with sediment and destroying the habitat of aquatic wildlife. Many on Twitter are also questioning the ethics of pillaging an African ecosystem to restore a man-made European monument.

The company argues that this is a more environmentally friendly solution than cutting down new trees, but others believe it could prove detrimental to the ecosystem. France is in a tough spot, however, as finding trees strong enough to restore the cathedral to its original state is proving difficult, and these African trees certainly seem to fit the bill.

Francis Kalitsi, chairman of Kete Krachi, said, “We don’t think they still have oak in these volumes for the construction of cathedrals. Whereas underneath the lake, you have typical African hardwoods that are similar to oak trees — their density may range from 650kg to 900kg per cubic metre. They are structural timbers which could be useful in the reconstruction.”

If allowed to move forward, the company would sell $50 million worth of wood to the French government. The trees are already being harvested and exported to other locations in Europe, as well as the Middle East, Asia, and South Africa.

The French government, however, hasn’t acknowledged whether or not it will accept the proposal. According to Jérémie Patrier-Leitus of the French culture ministry, “Right now we don’t know if the frame will be rebuilt in wood. We are in the process of securing the monument, and then we will have to rebuild the vault and the spire.”

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