On the construction site of Maasvlakte 2, at the mouth of the Meuse.

Rotterdam gaining ground

When growth in Europe’s largest port was stifled by a lack of available space, engineers came up with an ingenious expansion project to reclaim a tract of land that is as big as 4,000 football pitches — a feat that is reminiscent of the construction of the sea walls that protect the islands of South Holland, which were built half a century ago.

Published on 14 September 2011 at 16:07
Port of Rotterdam  | On the construction site of Maasvlakte 2, at the mouth of the Meuse.

It is a stormy day out on “Maasvlakte 2” where the wind is reaching 6 and 7 on the Beaufort scale, and showers of hail are coming in off the sea. But there is no respite from the construction of tomorrow’s Netherlands. The workers are busy building a 3.5-kilometre breakwater to protect the new port from the North Sea — an enormous undertaking, which involves the positioning of 20,000 concrete blocks — 2.5-metre long cubes, each weighing 40 tonnes — in the water just off the coast.

To complete this massive task, they are using a specially designed crane, built at a cost of 10 million euros, which has been nicknamed Blockbuster. The machine is manned by a team of eight mechanics, none of whom works for more than an hour at a time, explains Ronald Paul, who manages the organisation in charge of the “Maasvlakte 2” project. The work demands extreme concentration, because the margin of error in the positioning of the blocks cannot be more than 15 centimetres. On average, 700 people are now working on the construction of Maasvlakte 2, at a cost of 1.5 million euros per day. The overall budget for the project is 3 billions euros.

4000 football pitches

On 1st September 2008, Ivo Opstelten, who was still the mayor of Rotterdam at the time, deposited the first symbolic pile of sand. Since then, a fleet of trailing suction hopper dredgers have been taking sand from the bed of the North Sea, at around 12 kilometres from the coast, which is then brought back to form the outer arm of Maasvlakte 2. When this work has been completed in two years time, an estimated 240 million cubic metres of sand will have been brought to the Dutch coast to create 2,000 hectares, or a surface area equivalent to 4,000 football pitches, of reclaimed land, that will provide the site for the port’s future container terminals. Along with four other port operators, the Dubai based company DP World will be one of the first companies to commence operations at the site.

Dutch pride

Even it the construction teams are international (with Russian, Ukranian, Philipino and East European workers), Maasvlakte 2 is first and foremost a Dutch project. “The population is curious to know how we are going to complete such a vast project,” remarks Ronald Paul. Futureland, the interactive information centre located between Maasvlakte 1 and Maasvlakte 2 opened its doors on 1st May 2009, and welcomed its 250,000th visitor on 25 June of this year. According to Paul “Maasvlakte 2 is a source of Dutch pride, as were the Delta Works, which also set new global standards.”

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Atmospheric pollution

However, this view is not shared by organisations like Milieudefensie (the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth) and the wildlife protection group De Faunabescherming which have fought a longdrawn out battle over the environmental damage wrought by the extension of the port. In 2009, all the concerned parties reached an agreement over the maximum level of air pollution. But the conflict has not been laid to rest. People living close to the port are also worried about the number of trucks using the region’s roads, which are already snarled with traffic. When Maasvlakte 2 comes on stream, it will inevitably contribute to a further upsurge in road use. However, planners expect that it will actually reduce delays on roads throughout the Rhone delta region.

The port has grown in spite of the crisis

The port of Rotterdam has continued to grow at an astonishing pace, even in a time of crisis. Maasvlakte 1, which was developed in the 1970s, is now full. There has been a reduction in the number of iron and mineral shipments, but the growth in intermodal container transport has more than compensated for this. Today the port is handling more than a million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units, which are the standard measure for containers). When Maasvlakte 2 is completed, the port of Rotterdam will have enough additional capacity for the next 25 years. In 2030, the world will have changed. As to the possibility of a Maasvlakte 3, no one in Rotterdam wants to consider the possibility now.

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