Dutch cabinet okays land flooding to enlarge Belgian port

10th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Dutch cabinet gave the green light Friday to flood a 320-hectare piece of farmland reclaimed from the sea to allow the enlargement of the port of Antwerp in neighbouring Belgium.

The Hague - The Dutch cabinet gave the green light Friday to flood a 320-hectare piece of farmland reclaimed from the sea to allow the enlargement of the port of Antwerp in neighbouring Belgium.

"We have decided to opt for flooding" of the Western Scheldt estuary, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told journalists in The Hague after a weekly cabinet meeting.

"We have tried everything to find an alternative, but we did not succeed."

Kris Peeters, premier of the Belgian region of Flanders, welcomed the decision as "a step in the right direction".

The land in question, named the Hedwige Polder, was reclaimed from the sea in 1904 and is protected against the water by levees, or dykes, in the southwestern province of Zeeland.

The Netherlands signed a deal with Belgium in 2005 to enlarge the Western Scheldt estuary -- a key entry point in Dutch territory for ship traffic heading upriver to the port of Antwerp, Europe's second largest.

Flooding the polder would create a nature reserve to compensate for environmental damage envisaged by dredging the estuary to allow bigger ships to reach Antwerp.

Public outrage led the Dutch government in April to suggest keeping the polder and creating other riverside nature reserves instead.

Environmentalists seized the Dutch Council of State, a government advisory body, which ordered suspension of the work in July -- much to the anger of Flanders, which has threatened to sue.

The council found that the extent of the environmental damage was uncertain. It is set to make a final decision on the continuation of dredging in January next year, while Belgium has continued work on its side of the estuary.

Balkenende, himself a Zeelander, described the decision as necessary but "sad".

"We did everything we could" to avoid the flooding option, which is opposed by a majority of political parties in parliament, he said. "Alas, there was no alternative."

The Dutch government has yet to decide on compensation for about two dozen Hedwige farmers who lease the 800 acres from a single owner, who has threatened to oppose the move by legal means.

AFP/Expatica

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