Augustow bypass alternative unveiled

By Richard High26 March 2009

Environmental groups, including CEE Bankwatch Network, OTOP - BirdLife Poland, Greenpeace Poland and WWF Poland, have applauded the Polish government's decision to save the country's Rospuda Valley in the northeast of the country, from destruction by the E67 road development.

Polish Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki has announced construction of an alternative route that will relieve the town of Augustow of heavy traffic without harming Rospuda. The new bypass will now be constructed close to the nearby village of Raczki.

Local media quoted Mr Nowicki as saying, "It appears that there is an alternative... which is less expensive and just 2 km longer than the route originally planned through the Rospuda valley."

Mr Nowicki added the Environment ministry would now ask the European Commission to halt legal procedures it launched against Poland aimed at halting highway construction through the Rospuda valley.

Commenting on the decision, Konstantin Kreiser, European Union (EU) policy manager of BirdLife International, said, "[The] announcement is a great victory for Europe's natural heritage and for all who care for it. Once more it has been shown that infrastructure development and Natura 2000 can go together, provided there is political will and respect for EU legislation. A lot of time and money could have been saved if such a decision had been taken earlier."

Construction of the E67 violated EU Directive (2004/35/EC), which is designed to protect rare ecological environments, according to the European Commission. The Rospuda Valley nature reserve, which includes the Augustow Forest and one of Europe's last remaining peat bogs, is home to wolf, lynx and both Lesser-spotted and White-tailed eagles. It is protected under the European Union's Natura 2000 network of conservation sites.

In March 2007 the European Commission gave the Polish Government a week to stop work on the E67 highway, or face court action. The move followed Polish Government approval of the Augustow Town bypass in the Rospuda Valley, one of eight schemes connected with construction of the E67 highway in Poland.

The Polish Government said delaying construction would threaten Poland's plans to improve its infrastructure and integrate it into the Trans-European Transport Network (TENs)

In July 2007 following an injunction to stop the work, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said work on road would not go ahead. Speaking on Polish radio, Mr Kaczynski said his government had failed to convince the EC and it was now time to show a certain restraint.

BirdLife International is a global Partnership of conservation NGOs working in more than 100 countries and territories that, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting them. BirdLife is represented in 42 European countries and in all 27 Members States. http://europe.birdlife.org

The Natura 2000 network, which covers about 18% of the EU, is a network of sites that aims to "reconcile human activities with nature conservation". Natura 2000 sites are not fenced-off areas, but encourage sustainable and nature friendly land-use and business. They are established under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, which are binding laws for all EU Member States (see http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature).

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