Westerschelde nature plan in trouble

A cabinet commitment to this year deepen the Westerschelde estuary – at the centre of a diplomatic row between the Netherlands and Belgium – may be in trouble, according to media reports on Friday.

During a parliamentary debate on Thursday evening it emerged that two of the three coalition parties are on the verge of withdrawing their support for an alternative plan to compensate for the environmental damage the dredging will cause.
The row centres on an area of land close to Antwerp known as the Hedwige polder. The Netherlands and Belgium had agreed in 2005 to flood the land to make up for the loss of natural habitat caused by the dredging.
Legal problems
Protests and legal wranglings have put the Dutch half of the flood plan on hold and research should have been under way into alternatives.
But during last night’s debate, farm minister Gerda Verburg told MPs that research will only begin in October, much to Labour MPs’ fury.
They are now on the verge of joining ChristenUnie MPs in supporting the original plans to flood the polder, the Volkskrant says. A majority of MPs is still opposed to the flood plan.
Last week, prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende assured Belgium the Netherlands will meet its side of the agreement and complete the work. The Westerschelde is being dredged to allow bigger ships to reach Antwerp port.
Thursday night’s debate was stopped after minister Verburg faltered while asking questions and was taken out of the chamber in a confused state. The minister is currently in hospital undergoing tests.

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