Polish environmentalists mobilise against a motorway

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Environmentalists in Poland are protesting against the planned construction of a road bypassing the northern town of Augustow and running through the unique Rospuda Valley. The planned 40 kilometer expressway, to include a pillared bridge, is part of the Via Baltica network that is to link Helsinki to Warsaw. Polish Greens have a strong backing from the European Commisison, which firmly opposes the project.

Greenpeace activists chained themselves to trees in the valley while demonstrations were held around the country. "Save Rospuda" cried campaigners in the streets. John Beauchamp witnessed a demonstration in the southern city of Krakow.

"The protesters explained their mission to the participants. Many people at the picket were supporting the action against the planned expressway, others took a step back from the picketing:"it is hard to describe how it is to part of the conflict, I do not know what the government is going to think of this but I know there is a solution."

Photo: European Commission
The European Commission has already warned Poland not to continue with the construction works. The controversial investment runs through the region of the Rospuda valley which is currently a Special Protection Area of the European Natura Ecological Network and is top of a list of areas which according to scientists and ecological organizations should be designated as Special Areas of Conservation .The Commission spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich recalled that Brussels has demanded to stop the investment until its possible negative effects on the area are cleared up.

"Until we are certain the construction cannot begin under any circumstances. Poland is an EU member and is supposed to abide by EU rules and environmental regulations are extremely important for us."

Environmentalists demonstrate in Warsaw for the protection of the endangered Rospuda River valley in northeastern Poland, threatened by plans to build a highway across it, photo: CTK
Ignoring Brussels warnings Poland's environment minister Jan Szyszko has decided to start work on the by pass road. What steps will the EC take if Poland persists in turning a deaf ear to the commissions demands. Polish Radio correspondent in Brussels Beata Plomecka.

"Then the EC continues the infringement procedures which it started in December. Brussels demands explanations from Warsaw and of course in a couple of months or next year the case can simply end at the European Tribunal in Brussels."

The planned expressway and the construction work will cause environmental damage in the wilderness area. The noise, pollution and construction would damage breeding grounds of various bird species, some of which are protected, as well as some endangered plants and the unique mire complex. Ecologists and conservationists continue to protest against the construction projects.

The construction of the by pass is strongly supported by the people of Augustow who have to live side by side with the heavy vehicles and trucks continuously passing their town. A solution to the problem could be an alternative route for the by pass road suggested by Poland's Greens and not taken into account by the authorities.