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Port of Le Havre. The construction of a “cat flap”, false good ecological idea?

The cat flap, which must create a passage so that the barges can arrive at the foot of the container ships, worries fishermen and ecological associations. (©Illustration/Haropa)

It’s not every day that they come together. And yet, fishermen and environmental associations recently united in a collective. Their objective ? Preserve the biodiversity of the Seine estuary. Their common enemy? The project of ” pet door » a colossal redevelopment project for the entrance breakwater to the port of Le Havre (Seine-Maritime), led by Haropa.

3 million m³ of sediment to be dredged

To allow barges coming from the Seine to directly access the container ships parked in Port 2000, and thus promote river transport, a two-kilometre-long breakwater must be built. Protecting boats from wind and tides, its construction represents nearly 3 million m³ of sediment to be dredged.

Titanic work, which risks disrupting the marine ecosystem of the area, worries the opponents of the project. “We know that the estuary is already concreted, it has been greatly modified over the past 50 years. With the construction of Port 2000 and the Normandy bridge, we have already lost wetlands, which serve as a nursery for species such as sole or sea bass,” recalls Dimitri Rogoff, president of the regional fisheries committee.

It is moreover his organization which is at the origin of the collective called “Preserve the estuary of the Seine”, an estuary which he describes “as one of the biggest feeders: when you amputate it, you create necessarily an imbalance of resources. The sea bass, sole, lobster and shad are on the list of potentially threatened species.

Other more relevant options?

These concerns are shared by various associations dedicated to ecology. “This project will continue to consume space in the estuary, which has already been greatly affected in recent years”, warns André Berne, who worked on the cat flap file for France Nature Environnement Normandie.

All these projects only disrupt the ecosystem. We are of course in favor of the circulation of barges, but there are solutions for this that would be better ecologically, such as the renewal of the fleet of boats that can go out to sea, or even the drilling of the Port 2000 breakwater by a system of ‘lock.

Andre BernFrance Nature Environment Normandy

“When Port 2000 was created, the engineers had already said that it would be wise for barges to be able to dock at the foot of the boats, and the lock had been mentioned, recalls the activist. It would have cost a lot less then. There was a real lack of anticipation, this whole thing is completely unreasonable. »

Sharing this observation, Dimitri Rogoff demands “that these alternative solutions be studied. They are now underestimated in favor of the economic side: we have chosen the simplest and cheapest option. »

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For Haropa, the operation must remain competitive

On the port side, however, we assure you: “these debates around the possible variants have already taken place since 2017, during the first public consultation (…) Everything was then explained, exposed during numerous meetings”, insists Florian Weyer, Deputy CEO at Haropa. “This decision by the port supervisory board was validated by the State, which recognized that, among all the possible solutions, the cat flap was the best,” he insists.

On the possibility of renewing the river fleet, he points out both the time (“40 or 50 years”) that such an operation can take, but also “the additional costs” that it implies and “that shipowners do not are not necessarily ready to take on to cross a single kilometer of maritime zone”.

Concerning the lock, he recognizes that this solution “is much more expensive and moreover not completely devoid of impacts either. For him, this type of option “would be so expensive that it would make the river totally uncompetitive. A lock has to be operated, maintained… It would make it so expensive for boats to pass that we would end up scoring a goal against our camp. »

Too limited impact studies?

But beyond the option chosen by Haropa, the environmental impact studies backed by the file also question the opponents of the cat flap. “The measurements lacked precision, believes André Berne. There are only one or two points analyzed, whereas it would have been necessary to have more precise, more detailed inventories, and to look into complete cycles. »

To measure the impacts, scientific studies are needed. But these studies today, we do not have them. What we are asking is that all of this be measured seriously.

Dimitri RogoffChairman of the Regional Fisheries Committee

By way of comparison, the president of the regional fisheries committee recalls that “Port 2000 has lost 70% of its fishing qualities in 50 years”. Or that, “at the level of the restaurant on the Normandy bridge, areas of shrimp have disappeared. And what we remove here, we must recreate elsewhere. »

Millions planned for compensatory measures

If Haropa indeed had to revise its copy at the request of the State, “which asked to improve a certain number of aspects to take into account the impacts in terms of protected species and compensatory measures (…), the studies are now finalized,” says Florian Weyer.

The deputy director of the port specifies that “literature and scientific observations” do not currently state “absolutely no characteristics that would be conducive to a bar nursery. Studies have identified a passage of young sole near the area, and this presence, like that of shad, has been taken into account. »

It is obviously planned to continue the observations to ensure the absence of impact on a possible nursery area. In addition, we have budgeted several million euros for the project to recreate habitats favorable to fish if ever the project had the least impact in this regard.

Florian Weyer Haropa Deputy Chief Executive Officer

Now in the hands of independent authorities for advice, the cat flap project should soon be submitted to a public inquiry, before the prefect validates it or not. If everything goes as planned by Haropa, the work should then start for a year and a half, for commissioning at the end of 2023. A schedule which could of course be disrupted in the event of an appeal filed by opponents.

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