Brussels moves to block Polish road building

The European Commission is taking urgent legal action to block Polish plans to build a major road through a protected primeval forest to give the courts time to make a final decision on the issue.

The EC began action to stop the building of a stretch of the Via Baltica – a highway which would link Poland with Scandinavian states – back in March but the European Court of Justice has yet to rule on the road.

Building work was due to start this week, on August 1, but now Brussels has asked the ECJ to pass an interim order banning the construction while the courts consider the case in full.

Poland argues that the road is necessary to improve trade links with its wealthy northern neighbours but the EC argues that a better route could be found which was less environmentally damaging.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “It is regrettable that Poland has now decided to go ahead with the construction of a new road through Rospuda Valley. I would hope that Poland will reconsider its decision before irreparable damage is done. In the meantime, the Commission has asked the Court of Justice to issue an injunction to maintain the integrity of the site.

Poland has a history of resisting European dictates on road building.

In February the Polish authorities gave contractors the green light to start construction work on bypasses in important nature sites in the Rospuda river valley and Puszcza Knyszynska in north-eastern Poland, even though the EC had already begun the lengthy legal process to stop the build.

The Polish government agreed to suspend the build during the breeding season for key bird species, but that season has now come to an end.

Poland denies that European nature legislation requires it to protect the site by cancelling the bypass and argues that by assessing the damage the road will cause, looking at alternatives and offering compensatory measures it has complied with all legal requirements.

Proposed compensatory measures include taking some forest out of production, creating ponds, blocking small streams to bring up the water level in drainage channels, planting trees, and restoring and managing wet meadows.

For its part, the Commission claims that Poland has a duty to protect this site and that the assessments and examination of alternatives are weak and unconvincing.

Environmental activists from Greenpeace and other NGOs have threatened to take direct action and organise a blockade and major road protest should Poland decide to go ahead with the build.

Magda Stoczkiewicz, policy co-ordinator at eastern European environmental pressure group Bankwatch said: “The arrogance of the Polish government towards European law and legal institutions is appalling.

“Still, we believe that due to the European Commission’s reaction, devastation of the unique Rospuda Valley will be halted.”

David Gibbs

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