in: Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 6 (1), 153–177
The ongoing fairway adaptation of the Elbe Estuary is one of the most contested infrastructure projects in Germany in recent years. After a 17-year, highly contested planning process, delayed by a number of court proceedings, the dredging works started in 2019. The dredging aimed to establish a depth of at least 17.40 m below mean sea level, permitting the port to handle larger container vessels independent of the tide. Environmental NGOs, fishers and the riverine municipalities claim that the dredging will lead to habitat destruction, terminate the fishery in the estuary, and that it violates the European Water Framework Directive. The conflict illustrates that knowledge production, political economy and power are closely intertwined and provides evidence that some planning conflicts go even deeper than this. They are ultimately rooted in different ‘estuary ontologies’, in the different ways in which nature is enacted, and in different imaginations of possible futures for the Elbe estuary and its riverine population. Based on qualitative interviews with the actors who are involved in, observe or fight against the intervention, and on a content analysis of press articles and webpages, we unravel the complex relations between political economy, knowledge production and the different performances of reality which characterize the ongoing conflict over the fairway adaptation. We relate competing narratives, knowledge claims and ontologies to the actors promoting and challenging the fairway adaptation. Finally, we identify multiple estuary realities, which are enacted by specific practices performed by fishers, port authorities and environmental NGOs.