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Elbe dredging finally gets the go-ahead

After 17 years of false starts, national and European level court disputes with environmental groups, local residents, fishing and orchard interests, planning changes and costly rejigging, work to deepen and (at pinch points) widen the Elbe river fairway finally received the green light to proceed

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The main task is to deepen the river along several stretches and construct a "parking bay" to allow large vessels to pass.


This is a joint project of Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) and the Federal administration of wate ways and shipping, WSV Wasserstraßen- und Schiffahrtsverwaltungsamt.


In Hamburg the project comprises four meaures. In addition to dredging, a shore attachment must be built on the Eastern side of the Köhlbrand, the direct fire line (light towers) has to be shifted at Blankenese, and a culvert between Falkensteiner Ufer and the Neßsand island must be restored.


Additionally, three steps have to be taken to protect local fauna and flora, including a new home for a threatened and unique aquatic plant (a type of hemlock fennel), and the nature protection site at Zollenspieker must be improved.

The Lower Elbe dredging schematic, from Hamburg to the sea
The Lower Elbe dredging schematic, from Hamburg to the sea

Beyond Hamburg state territory, an underwater construction is required to store dredged material. Thus tidal energy can be ameliorated to avoid larger changes of flow and water level.


A number of mitigation projects must also be carried out in the other Lower Elbe riparian states, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony.


In Hamburg the draft of 16.70m NN will be deepened to 17.39 NN. In Hamburg territory the fairway, which varies in width between 200m and 250m, will be widened by 20m. Beyond Blankenese the river will be widened and a 385m long passing box will be created to allow very large vessels to pass.


The whole project, will officially add another €67M to Hamburg’s bill, taking it to around €286M, although environmental groups insist the real bill will be much higher.


On project completion, vessels with a draft of 13.50m can enter or leave the port at any state of the tide, and vessels drawing 14.50m will be able to access the port on a flood tide.

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