Weser, Elbe River Dredging May Face Curbs After EU Court Ruling

German plans to dredge the Weser and Elbe rivers risk being blocked unless they would avoid degrading water quality, the European Union’s highest court said.

Judges at the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg said deterioration of a river is established “as soon as the status of at least one of the quality elements” as laid out in EU law “falls by one class, even if that fall does not result in a fall in classification of the body of surface water as a whole.”

While the EU court ruling concerns the River Weser, a German tribunal stayed a separate case over the city of Hamburg’s plan to dredge the navigation channel of the River Elbe pending the outcome. The Weser case was triggered by German environment group Bund fuer Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland in a challenge against the German government.

“It looks like exceptions are being made, so authorities in Hamburg and Bremen can take measures to counteract a deterioration of the water quality as a result of dredging,” said Henning Breiter, a Hamburg-based analyst at Hauck & Aufhaeuser, a private bank.

“The court in Germany now needs to decide whether compensation measures planned by the authorities are sufficient or whether they need to be expanded,” he said, adding that he sees a final ruling by the German court by the end of the year.

Shares of Hamburger Hafen & Logistik AG fell as much as 1.2 percent after today’s ruling, trading at 127 percent their 3-months average volume. They were up 0.1 percent at 11:43 a.m. in Frankfurt trading.

Karl Olaf Petters, a spokesman for the company, declined to comment on the ruling, saying it was up to the authorities and environmental groups involved in the proceedings to react.

HHLA, the handler of three in four containers at the port, currently needs extra staff and equipment to deal with peak traffic. Dredging would provide more time to handle containers and increase ship utilization, HHLA has said.

Hamburg’s UVHH port business association said it still expects the Elbe dredging to be approved eventually as it is “of overriding public interest.”

The case is: C-461/13, Bund fuer Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland e.V. v, Bundesrepublik Deutschland.