CAIRO: Construction has halted and equipment seized at the site of the Agrium petrochemical plant in Damietta, according to local press.
A petition from the Housing and Building Cooperative in Damietta was submitted to the Ministry of Justice to halt construction, and is to be considered on May 19.
Strong local opposition towards the plant was due to fears that it would pollute the surrounding environment, especially as it is close to residential areas and a beach resort.
Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that a delegation from the Agrium parent company in Canada was coming to Egypt to meet Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and discuss the controversy surrounding the plant.
Salah El Haggar, vice president of the Association for the Protection of the Environment, agreed that it was better for the plant to be relocated.
“There are two areas to address, he told Daily News Egypt, “the industrial process and the surrounding environment. For Damietta, I don’t think it’s a suitable location regardless of the type of factory, because it is a fragile environment.
The plant, which is due for completion in 2010, is a nitrogen facility that should consist of two ammonia and urea trains working at a combined capacity of 1.3 million tons of urea and 100,000 tons of net ammonia.
The Egyptian press had also reported that the government had caved in to local demands and was scouting areas in Ain Sokhna to relocate the project.
Haggar said Ain Sokhna was a suitable location for factories for many reasons, not least the industrial base of the area.
“The key issue is not the factory, but the location because [of the fragility of the] environment, he said. “Some people came to me in the past wanting me to carry out an environmental impact assessment for a cement factory they wanted to build in Helwan. I advised them to select another location and they eventually moved to Ain Sokhna and it is now considered one of the best factories there.
Agrium Egypt had previously denied that the plant would be relocated, their project director Khaled Salama telling Daily News Egypt that reports on this were “untrue.
He did concede that there was strong opposition to the plant, but that this was due to a lack of awareness about its activities.
“Many people are against it, he said, “but that is due to a lack of awareness of the safety features and technology used in building the plant and the benefit to the local community.
Agrium, a Canadian company, holds a 60 percent stake in the disputed plant. Government bodies, the Egyptian Petrochemicals Holding Company and the Egyptian Natural Gas Company own 24 percent and 9 percent respectively. The remaining 7 percent is held by the Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation of the Saudi Arabian government.
The total construction cost was estimated at $1.2 billion.