EU takes Poland to court over wetland motorway plans

The European Commission is taking Poland to the European Court of Justice over a controversial plan to pass a major motorway across the site of a unique peat land nature reserve, and asking for immediate stop to building works while the case is debated.

EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “It is with regret that the Commission is bringing this case to the European Court of Justice. But this course of action is necessary if these precious natural sites of European significance are to be protected from irreparable damage. The Commission cannot accept the loss of such precious natural heritage.”

The Rospuda Valley nature reserve, part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected sites, has been at the centre of a long-running dispute between Poland’s government and environmentalists, with the general public and mainstream press getting involved along the way.

According to a recent poll, 62% of Polish citizens are against passing the motorway through Rospuda valley as currently planned, 19% say the route should remain unchanged, and 17% say they do not have enough information to express a view.

The Polish government is determined to press on with the route planned so far, which takes the Augustow bypass across the Rospuda reserve, and says that the project is too far advanced to be changing plans now.

Environmental groups argue that redirecting the bypass, part of the Via Baltica motorway, away from the protected valley would bring down the costs of the operation by avoiding the engineering challenges of passing a road across a bog.

Now with the European court case these costs are likely to go up substantially, campaigners from Greenpeace Poland say:

“If Poland loses, it will encounter enormous costs related not only to the penalties imposed by the court but also to the breach of the recently signed contract with the construction company, Budimex.” Polish society “should be informed as soon as possible as to who will take responsibility for the decision” in this case, said Maciej Muskat of Greenpeace Poland.

Greenpeace has withdrawn “patrols” of activists that had been monitoring the area to make sure building work did not commence in view of the EU decision to bring a court case against Poland, and earlier assurances from the environment minister that work would not take place during the birds’ breeding period (see related story. The European court case could take around 18 months.

Goska Romanowicz

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