ENGINEERS ARE struggling to keep a £130M flood barrier project in north west Germany alive after piling work was halted by environmental objections at the end of November.
Campaigners won a court injunction to stop work six weeks after the contract began when it was discovered that the barrier would have a dual purpose which they argued could damage wildlife.
Engineers from the Lower Saxony department of water affairs and coastal protection, NLWK, had insisted that the main function of the barrier on the River Ems near the Netherlands border would be to protect towns from storm surges.
But they now admit that the barrier is also designed to impound water upstream for up to 36 hours to allow cruise liners built at a shipyard in Leer to be floated out to the North Sea.
The environmental campaigners managed to convince the court that this would have a more serious impact on the local environment than was first indicated.
However, NLWK manager for the barrier's gates, bridges and steelwork Renke Wolff dismissed this and said the project team was trying to get the ruling overturned at the Luneburg High Court.
'We hope we will be able to start work again in a month's time, but it could take a lot longer,' he said.
Construction work was officially started by new chancellor Gerhard Schroder in mid-September. The project is known to be close to his heart as up to 10,000 jobs are thought to depend on new orders at the shipyard. Schroder has made it clear that he wants the barrier open by mid-2001, in time to meet ship delivery deadlines.
NLWK had originally proposed dredging the river, but that option was rejected on environmental grounds.
The 476m wide barrier will be made up of six non-navigable spans which will have guillotine gates, and a larger 60m wide navigable span. The main channel will be 9m deep at midwater tide and will have a rotating gate which will sit inside a sill on the river bed. This has been modelled on the main gates of the Thames barrier, which have almost identical dimensions.
The main gate is being built by Dutch firm Hollandia which is also constructing the Millennium Wheel in London. German companies Philipp Holzmann, Gebrude Neumann, Johann Bunte and Museng will carry out the remainder of the work, which has been designed by NLWK and Hamburg design consultant IMS.
A delegation of 18 senior engineers working on the project travelled to the Thames barrier the day before work on the Ems barrier was stopped, to quiz the Environment Agency on design details and maintenance procedures.