Minister: East Flanders province must review plans to drain polder area
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Minister: East Flanders province must review plans to drain polder area

The polder area in question. © Sigmaplan

Flemish environment minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) has sent an order back to the governor of East Flanders province for review, after a successful appeal by a local campaigner.

Francis Van den Abbeele lives in Berlare, not far from where the plans should be carried out, and has been battling for years to oppose the plans, and has now been at least temporarily successful.

The Scheldt is the river that rises in northern France as the Escaut and makes its way across Flanders to end finally in Antwerp, before its estuary arrives at the North Sea at Breskens-Vlissingen in the Dutch province of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen.

Along the way, the Duurme river feeds into the Scheldt in East Flanders, with the river valley, which includes the town on Lokeren, seven metres deep. That creates a polder – effectively a flood plain such as found in the coastal areas of West Flanders and Zeeland.

The so-called Sigma Plan aims to pump water out of the polder in the area created by the centuries-old river bends (see photo) to make the ground less susceptible to flooding.

But Van den Abbeele is opposed, and has fought the plan every step of the way. Now, at almost the last hurdle, he has been backed by the minister.

Demit has three objections. First, the pumps to be used are not regulated in Flanders. Second, there is little or no legal foundation for the Sigma plan. Third, the decision of East Flanders Governor Carina Van Cauter (Open VLD) is not sufficiently well-motivated to stand up in court.

Lawyer Griet Cnudde, speaking for her client to the VRT, expressed his satisfaction.

“This polder area is of enormous ecological value. It contains areas that are protected by Europe and there are all kinds of rare animals and plants,” she said.

Her client now hopes the governor will reject the plan altogether.

“My client has been fighting for this for years. This is a huge victory.”