Since its creation in 1898, the Coastal Division has undergone several name changes and, of course, many structural changes as well. Ever since it was set up, the Coastal Division, in both its policy and the performance of its duties, has strived for an optimal form of coexistence with the sea.
1898 - 1944
On 31 March 1898, King Leopold II created the Special Agency for the Coast in Ostend under the name ‘Ministère de l’Agriculture et des Travaux Publics – Ponts et Chaussées – Service Spécial de la Côte’ (Ministry of Agriculture and Civil Engineering – Bridges and Roads – Special Coastal Department).
There had already previously been a unit set up in Ostend, which was responsible for public works on the coast. Pierre Demey, Chief Engineer-Director of Bridges and Roads, had been the head of this agency since 1886. In his position, Demey gradually became the confidential advisor of King Leopold II for coastal and port works. Shortly after his death in February 1898, the king officially set up the Special Agency for the Coast. Under the successor, the engineer Van Gansberghe, the agency carried out the plans for the new ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge.
1945 - 1976
During World War I, the locks and water control of the Yser played a major role; during this time, they fell within the competence of the Agency for the Coast.
From 1945, the Special Agency for the Coast, under the direction of Jozef Lagrou, focused mainly on repairing the damage caused by the war and clearing shipwrecks. In 1952, Jozef Verschave launched a programme for substantial sea defence works which, after the storm-surge disaster of 1953, gained momentum. With his work on the sea defences and the first steps towards the expansion of the port of Zeebrugge, Verschave left an indelible mark on the coastline.
In 1967, the reins were handed over to Robert Simoen, who continued the work on the coastal ports of Ostend, Zeebrugge, Blankenberge and Nieuwpoort. Under his direction, the modest Agency for the Coast developed into an important government coastal agency, the Agency for Coastal Ports.
1977 - 2009
As Inspector-General, Robert Simoen was assisted by Chief Engineer-Director Herman Verslype, his successor in 1989, Pierre Kerckaert, and Erik Blomme, to whom the directorship was later transferred.
In 1995, the Agency for Coastal Ports was assigned to the Flemish Waterways and Maritime Affairs Administration – AWZ – and its name was changed to the Department of Waterways and Coast – AWK. Director-engineer Bernard De Putter became the Head of Department.
In 2003 and 2004 the administration was restructured. The powers of the departments were functionally redistributed and a great many responsibilities were shifted to the departments of Maritime Access and Upper Scheldt.
In early 2004, jurisdiction over the coast canals and the river Yser was transferred and the duties of the department became more focused, as it was at the beginning, on the coast itself. At that point in time, the ‘Waterways section’ was dropped entirely and the department got its current name of the Coastal Division.
2010 - NOW
In 2010, the organisational structure of the Coastal Division was substantially modified. A fresh dynamic and renewed professionalism became the catchwords to achieve optimal cooperation with customers, partners and stakeholders.
On 8 March 2010, Bernard De Putter retired. He was succeeded as Head of Department by Kathleen Bernaert. Her biggest challenges were the drafting of the Masterplan for Coastal Safety, which was approved by the Flemish authorities on 10 June 2011, She left the department on 29 February 2016. Until the appointment of a new departmental Head, Jacques D’Havé, Administrator General, took up the position, while Peter DeWolf, consultant engineer, was responsible for the day-to-day activities of the department.
On 9 November 2016, Caroline Lootens was appointed to Head of the Coastal Division. Prior to this, she had taken on the role of legal adviser to the department.