New Dutch coastline takes shape

The construction of Maasvlakte 2 is proceeding according to plan. Over a quarter of the necessary sand was applied during the last year by contractors’ consortium PUMA. The trailing suction hopper dredgers have started to create two islands in the North Sea. One of these is already over 4 km long and has been ‘secured’ to the old coastline. In February 2010, a start will be made on the construction of the first quay wall for a container terminal, as well as the building of the hard sea defences on the northwest side of Maasvlakte 2. A new design has been made for this dyke, both cheaper and more nature friendly.

On 1 September 2008, construction work on Maasvlakte 2 began. At the start of this year, work really got under way when PUMA put a large number of trailing suction hopper dredgers into operation. On average, seven of these vessels are now operating around the clock. They suck sand from the bottom of the North Sea, about 12 km off the coast, and carry it to Maasvlakte 2. At the end of April, the first land emerged from the water. Now, there is a peninsula more than 4 km long and an island stretching about 3 km. The former forms the new coastline; on the latter, construction work on the quay wall for the Rotterdam World Gateway container terminal will begin in the spring. This should be operational in 2013.

Crisis has not affected speed of construction
Despite the economic crisis, the construction of Maasvlakte 2 is proceeding according to the original plan. This 20% expansion of the port of Rotterdam is, after all, a very long-term investment. For the coming decades, the Port of Rotterdam Authority expects to see structural growth in the handling of goods, irrespective of the current, major economic dip.

Monitoring impact on nature
Alongside the construction work, the Port Authority is conducting an extensive monitoring programme to keep an eye on whether or not the effects of this work on the North Sea ecosystem are remaining within the predicted margins. This means that life on and in the sea bed are charted periodically at some 300 locations in the North Sea. The silt content in the North Sea water is also measured. This latter data is also compared to satellite photos taken of the North Sea at the same moment, so that the silt content can be determined in the future using satellite images. In recent months, sound measurements have also been made of the underwater noise caused by the trailing suction hopper dredgers. The total monitoring programme for the construction is costing around € 10 million.

All procedures for the construction and use (land allocation plan) of Maasvlakte 2 have been completed in full. This means that both the construction permits and the land allocation plan are irrevocable. However, a number of procedures will follow, for building permits etc. for the individual companies.

Important milestones in 2010 are the start of construction work on the first quay wall for the Rotterdam World Gateway container terminal, the start of work on the hard sea defences and the start of a number of so-called interface projects. The latter will ensure that Maasvlakte 2 shortly links up seamlessly with the existing port infrastructure. This involves, among other things, the start of construction work on a viaduct for road and rail in the bend of the N15 near to the Slufter. These interface projects carry a price tag of around € 500 million.

The first interface project will be completed on 11 November 2009. On this day, contractors Visser & Smit Hanab will draw a 36 inch gas pipe with a length of over 1200 metres through a borehole under the Yangtzehaven. This is the last of six borings, which have been carried out to take the cables and pipes currently running through the pipe tracks along the Europaweg to a depth of over 40 metres below NAP (Amsterdam Ordnance Datum), under the quay wall of the Euromax terminal. Following on from the borings, various utility companies will connect the cables and pipes to the existing infrastructure. This is necessary so that the dredging of the Yangtzehaven, the new access to Maasvlakte 2, can go ahead.

Innovative design for hard sea defences
A new design has been made for the hard sea defences on the northwest side of Maasvlakte 2, at the place where the waves are the strongest during storms. This new ‘dyke’ will shortly look very un-Dutch. The sea defences will have a 4-5 m thick top layer of boulders, laid loosely on top of each other, instead of a solid covering. A few dozen metres in front of this, the blocks of the existing block dam will be laid in the sea. They will cushion the initial impact of a ‘superstorm’. This solution is a few tens of million of euros cheaper AND better ecologically, because an attractive biotope will emerge between the body of the dyke and the blocks. The design is still awaiting approval by the Directorate General for Public Works and Water Management, which will ultimately take over the sea defences.

Stones for the hard sea defences
The hard sea defences will be made up of a sand core, with several layers of stone on top. This will involve a total of around 7 million tonnes of hydraulic engineering stone. 5 million tonnes will come from European quarries. The first shipment of stones from Norway is expected in mid-December. 2 million tonnes will be recycled from the existing block dam around the Maasvlakte. In the spring of 2010, PUMA will begin piling up the concrete blocks for this dam. At the same time, a start will be made on the construction of the so-called E-Crane. This enormous crane, which has a lifting capacity of 50 tonnes and a reach of 63 metres, is being built specially for the construction of Maasvlakte 2.The unique E-Crane will begin bringing in the concrete blocks and rubble for the hard sea defences in April 2010.

Explosives and Mammoth bones also fished up
The PUMA suction dredgers not only bring up sand, but sometimes also old aircraft bombs and Mammoth bones. The southern section of the North Sea is well known as the biggest Mammoth graveyard in the world, so it is hardly surprising that bones of these prehistoric creatures are found here regularly.

Explosives from the Second World War are often found in the North Sea. Frequently, these are bombs dropped by allied aircraft over the sea because they had been unable to find their target in Germany and did not want to land in England with their explosives still on board. Up to now, the dredgers have come across seventeen such bombs. Most of them are 250-pounders and smaller bombs and grenades. They have all been defused by the Explosives Ordnance Disposal Command (EODD).

The trailing suction hopper dredgers are fitted with a so-called ‘bomb grate’ with 15 by 30 cm mesh, which is attached to the end of the suction tube. When sand is sucked up, the projectiles (and sometimes very large bones) remain on the other side of the grate, so that they are not taken on board the ship. When the tube is raised, the projectile is sometimes still hanging from the grate. Extensive protocols are in place on how to deal with such situations. This means, in particular, that the ship’s crew take a photo, e-mail it to the EODD and wait until these experts tell them what they must do. At all events, work on the vessel in question comes to a halt until the EODD have removed the projectile from the ship. With the really heavy bombs, only a skeleton crew remain on board the ship until this time. The other members of the crew leave the ship as a precautionary measure.