After almost a decade in operation and 1,000 million euros of investment, the outer port that the central Government and the Xunta de Galicia promoted after the oil spill of the Prestige To keep the transfer of oil tankers away from the center of A Coruña, it does not even have a rail connection. The dock built at Langosteira point (Arteixo), 10 kilometers from the city, is underused, has failed to comply with traffic forecasts and at this point lacks another essential infrastructure for the function entrusted to it: an oil terminal that serves the Repsol refinery. The project was called to be “one of the main economic engines in the European Atlantic facade” as predicted by the Galician president Alberto Núñez Feijóo, but its main effect has been another: the ruin of the Coruña Port Authority, which carries a debt of 300 million euros, ten times its turnover.
The port accumulates extra costs, a deficit design and a failed financing plan. The works that were awarded for 429 million euros in 2004 to a joint venture formed by Dragados, Sato, Copasa and Drace did not make up “a fully operational dock” so later new infrastructures had to be promoted, as concluded in a devastating report by audit by the Court of Accounts. The project was launched without even closing an agreement with Repsol for its move to the new port. Between additional costs and subsequent additions, the bill is around 1,000 million.
As if that were not enough, the financing of the Langosteira facilities was loyal to an urban operation that aroused the enthusiasm of the PP and PSOE Administrations. The government of the popular José María Aznar and the Xunta de Manuel Fraga joined the City Council in 2004, governed by the socialist Francisco Vázquez, to disallow and auction the docks in the center of A Coruña among real estate developers, transferring port activity to Langosteira. They planned to obtain 200 million euros from the privatization of the land and with that money to finance the new port. But the prick of the brick bubble arrived and that plan fell apart.
Today the quays in the heart of the city continue to concentrate the bulk of the port’s freight traffic, including crude oil and petroleum products. And two multimillion dollar loans weigh on the Port of A Coruña. To pay for the expensive works, carried out in one of the most beaten points of the Coruña coast, it received slightly more than 100 million from the European Investment Bank and 200 million from Puertos del Estado. Added to this financial asphyxia is the fact that the Langosteira railway connection, with a cost of 140 million, has no one to pay for it. “Without a train, the outer port is not a port, but a port esplanade,” admitted in December Feijóo, the only politician who signed the agreement in 2004 to build and finance the A Coruña dock, which is still active. He was then vice president of the Xunta.
The extreme situation that the project is experiencing has pushed the Administrations that prompted it to meet for the first time in 17 years to find a way out. The meeting called this Tuesday by the socialist mayor Inés Rey and which was attended by representatives of State Ports, the Ministry of Transport and the Xunta has ended with an oxygen balloon for the Port Authority. The 200 million loan with Puertos del Estado that was to begin repaying this year will not have to be paid until 2035.
“It is difficult to understand how it got here”
The president of State Ports, Francisco Toledo, confessed on Tuesday that when he came to office and saw the financial situation of the Port of A Coruña, on the verge of bankruptcy because he could not afford to pay the loans signed, he was “scared.” “It is difficult to understand how it got here,” says Toledo, who was president of the Castellón Port Authority. In his opinion, the city has a “strategic location” and a “huge” capacity for port growth, but in the last five years it has lost 25% of traffic while the entire Spanish system grew.
To pay for the train to Langosteira, the central government has promised to seek European funds but will have to avoid an obstacle. The feasibility and profitability study of the work that was drawn up in its day was based on the need to transport the coal to the Meirama thermal power plant. The plant, however, closed last June and rail traffic to the outer port has dropped 80%. “We have to look for other formulas and we will find them,” said the president of State Ports, Francisco Toledo, after the meeting.
When it was promoted, the then Minister of Development, Francisco Álvarez-Cascos (PP), raised the execution of the outer port of A Coruña as one of the greatest challenges for Spanish engineering and former mayor Francisco Vázquez compared it to the Pyramids of Egypt. The Port Authority of A Coruña predicted that it would create 15,000 jobs and that by 2020 port traffic would double. Last year, however, its docks moved 1.3 million tons of goods, which represents 13% of the activity of the Port of A Coruña. Of the almost 900,000 square meters of surface that is offered to companies, 61% is “concessioned or committed”.
The Port Authority, however, is optimistic. He argues that the Langosteira facilities work “with good returns” and claims, among other things, that they have attracted 250 million in private investment without having a train. It even considers the objective of removing polluting goods from the city center as fulfilled because it welcomes the transfer of coke, sulfur and a large part of the cereals. He expects the Repsol oil dock to start operating next year, on the tenth anniversary of its inauguration.