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Elbe Dredging Case Might Be Sent to EU Court, German Judge Says

Germany’s top administrative court might again ask the European Union’s highest tribunal for guidance in a case challenging the city of Hamburg’s project to dredge the navigation channel of the river Elbe, a judge said.

Whether such a step is necessary will be decided after six days of hearings, Ruediger Nolte, presiding judge at the Federal Administrative Court, said today on the first day of proceedings in Leipzig. The judges will also review whether the authorities relied on sound assumptions when judging environmental effects of the project, he said.

“Should the plan have to be overturned because of other arguments, we won’t have to send the case to the European Court of Justice,” said Nolte. “The fact that we scheduled our own hearings doesn’t rule out such a step.”

German environmental groups NABU and BUND challenged the project, scoring a preliminary victory in 2012 when the court halted construction while the case is pending. That ruling sent shares of Hamburger Hafen & Logistik AG, the handler of three in four containers at the port, down 4.4 percent at the time. Referring the case to the Luxembourg-based ECJ, would delay the project further.

After the court last year sent a similar case over the river Weser to the EU tribunal, Hamburg amended its project to accommodate legal concerns. The court will have to determine whether the changes addressed the issues, Judge Nolte said.

NABU and BUND argue the dredging would endanger rare species, such as harbor porpoises and plants unique to the Elbe river area. They argue the port would remain competitive without the project since Hamburg could work with other ports at the North Sea and has geographic advantages others can’t top.

Ultra Large

Hamburg, located about 130 kilometers (81 miles) from the North Sea, says deepening and widening the channel is necessary because ultra-large vessels can’t leave and enter its port fully loaded. The global fleet of container ships that can carry 14,000 standard boxes or more is forecast to triple by the end of 2016 with the biggest carrying more than 18,000, according to the June Global Port Tracker report.

Hamburger Hafen & Logistik AG currently needs extra staff and equipment to deal with peak traffic. Dredging would provide more time to handle containers and increase ship utilization, HHLA said on June 19.

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