North Rhine-Westphalia: Gravel pit to blame for the consequences of the flood disaster? Raid against RWE subsidiary in Erftstadt

Flood in Erftstadt-Blessem

The gravel pit only filled up in the summer, then landslides occurred. Several houses were destroyed at the break edge.

(Photo: dpa)

Düsseldorf The autobahn between Cologne and Koblenz has only been drivable again for a few weeks. At the height of the North Rhine-Westphalian municipality of Erftstadt, there is still a huge hole where countless houses previously stood. In the summer of last year, during the flood disaster in North Rhine-Westphalia and parts of Rhineland-Palatinate, there was a huge landslide that tore numerous buildings into the abyss.

Six months later, more than 140 officials from the Cologne public prosecutor’s office searched more than 20 office and residential buildings in North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia. The suspicion: the gravel pit, which was located next to the residential area, is responsible for the disaster in Erftstadt-Blessem, in which, as if by a miracle, nobody was killed.

The investigations are directed against the owner and lessor of the opencast mine, against five suspects of the operating company and against employees of the Arnsberg district government. The operator of the gravel pit in Blessem is the Rheinische Baustoffwerke – a subsidiary of the Essen energy group RWE.

The Cologne public prosecutor’s office accuses the company of not having secured the southern edge of the gravel pit with a flood protection wall that complies with the regulations. In addition, the embankments are said to have been steeper than permitted, according to the prosecutor. Only then could large amounts of water have penetrated the gravel pit. As a result, the earth was washed away and several houses collapsed.

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At the request of the Handelsblatt, RWE stated that the flood protection had been approved and fully functional. “The gravel pit was operated properly and in accordance with the rules,” emphasized a spokesman. The flood protection met all the necessary standards for extreme flood situations. Such a tidal wave was not expected by anyone in the dimension. “Tragically, the” millennium flood “has clearly exceeded everything that was previously thought possible,” said the RWE spokesman. The Essen-based company had only leased the mine from the now also accused owner since 2016.

Another problem for RWE

Due to the allegations, the investigators not only examined office space at the Rheinische Baustoffwerke, but also confiscated documents at the RWE location in Cologne. “We are also interested in a complete and objective clarification of all events in the context of the flood disaster,” assures RWE. They support the investigations of the public prosecutor’s office and have handed over all the requested documents.

For the energy giant, the raid in connection with the flood is only one of many image problems. Because even if, according to RWE boss Markus Krebber, the future belongs to renewable energies, RWE with its coal-fired power plants is still the largest CO2 emitter in Europe today. The fact that entire villages are being dredged away for the open-cast mine, even now that the coal phase-out has long been decided, also gnaws at the newly launched eco-self-image of the Essen company. And, as recently in the Lützerath case, keeps making headlines.

In the largely abandoned village, next to the last remaining resident, more and more activists are gathering who want to prevent the village from being torn down. Even Greta Thunberg stopped by. Meanwhile, the lignite excavator continues unmoved through the Garzweiler opencast mine. According to RWE’s current plans, it should also arrive in Lützerath by the end of 2022. A solution is not yet in sight.

In the gravel pit in Erftstadt-Blessem, however, operations have been inactive since the floods in summer. But here, too, resistance is now stirring. Eight houses have been “irreparably destroyed” according to the Erftstadt city administration. Three were swallowed up by the floods, one half collapsed. In the administrative district of Cologne alone, the flood caused damage of more than 850 million euros to the municipal infrastructure, according to the North Rhine-Westphalian state government. Most of the Blessemers have long since passed their judgment. “No more gravel pit in Blessem!” Is written on posters that are hung on many houses.

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