It is a decision which was awaited by the public authorities and by the opponents of the project. The administrative court of appeal (CAA) of Nancy annulled, Friday, October 15, the prefectural decree which authorized the burying “For an unlimited period” of hazardous waste on the Stocamine site in Wittelsheim, in the Haut-Rhin, a few days before the start of the containment work.
After years of procrastination over the future of the mine’s content, the Minister of Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili, ruled in January in favor of definitive confinement, in concrete, of the 42,000 tonnes of non-radioactive toxic waste (asbestos, arsenic, mercury, etc.) stored in this mine, 535 meters underground. A decision that aroused the anger of local elected officials and environmental associations who wanted to get as much out of it as possible before it closed and who fear pollution of the water table in Alsace.
The Collectivité européenne d’Alsace (CEA), resulting from the merger of the departments of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin at the beginning of the year, had filed an interim suspension before the administrative court of appeal of Nancy to prevent the start of landfill operations, scheduled for mid-October. These should consist in pouring concrete plugs several meters thick to condemn the storage galleries.
Insufficient impact study and lack of financial guarantees
The decision of the CAA is not however a surprise: Monday, the public rapporteur had asked for the cancellation of the order of the prefect of Haut-Rhin authorizing the landfill work, highlighting in particular the “Deficiencies” of the impact study and “Justification of financial capacity”. Public rapporteur Stéphane Barbaux underlined the lack of “Precise indications of the volume and location of the stored materials” in the impact study. “Insufficient justification of financial capacities [de la société Mines de potasse d’Alsace, MDPA] should have led the prefect to refuse ” to sign the decree of March 2017. He called for “Carry out new assessments of financial capacities” of the company, financed by a state subsidy.
Me Mégane Schvartz, representing the ECA, for his part underlined that“No serious study” had been carried out by the MDPAs to study solutions other than permanent landfill, considering that “All the scientific studies have concluded that there is long-term pollution of the Alsace water table”.
The MDPA company, through the voice of its lawyer, Me Carine Le Roy-Gleizes, defended herself from any breach in the impact study: “It is a file which was studied and which brought in the best international experts”, did she say.
At the end of the 1990s, it was decided to convert this end-of-life potash mine into an underground industrial landfill, to store 320,000 tonnes of hazardous waste, but not radioactive. However, the supply of waste was stopped in 2002 after the fire in one of the storage sites, when more than 40,000 tonnes had already been lowered 500 meters underground. The mine houses thousands of bags and metal cans containing asbestos, arsenic and even incineration residues.
On September 17, the elected representatives of the Rhine Council, which brings together 71 German, French and Swiss local elected representatives from the Upper Rhine region asked “Immediate destocking” of the Wittelsheim site (Haut-Rhin). The board “Opposes the decision taken by the (French) ministry for ecological transition in January 2021 to proceed with the immediate containment of the Stocamine site without additional destocking”, wrote the assembly in a statement.