Slovenia opposes plans for gas terminal in Bay of Trieste

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In Slovenia opposition is growing to Italian plans to allow a gas terminal to be built in the Gulf of Trieste. Slovenia raised concerns about the project when it was first proposed but it wasn't clear until this week whether the government would launch an official protest.

Slovenia's small strip of coast on the Adriatic is a source of national pride and also a contiuning source of disputes. Slovenia and Croatia have been quibbling about the maritime border for years, but last year a new dispute erupted after a Spanish utility company announced the idea of building a liquified natural gas terminal in the Gulf of Trieste.

Although in Italian waters, it could potentially effect Slovenia's adjacent Bay of Koper. Ecologists were quick to condemn the idea, and Slovenian public opinion was also decidedly against it. Critics argued that it would damage the already-stressed ecological balance in the northern Adriatic. Tourism officials worried about what the large terminals would do to the natural beauty of the sea.

The Slovenian government officially registered concern and asked for more information before taking a position. A few months later, an environment impact study showed that the construction of terminals would have »numerous adverse impacts« particularly on the environment and fisheries, but that it would also be a security problem. An attack on the terminal, for example, would cause tremendous damage to the area. In light of this, Slovenia's environment minister this week officially declared opposition to the idea. Janez Podobnik:

"We came to the decision and informed our colleagues in Rome that the gas terminal in the bay would have a long-term negative effect on the environment and because of this, we have strong legal reasons, and this is one of the reasons why they cancelled the first stages of the process, because Koper Bay is part of the greater bay. In our statement at the time, we declared that there is no place for this gas terminal in the bay at all."

Interestingly, there was some debate within the government. The head of the port operator in the Slovenia port of Koper told a daily newspaper that the terminals would be »lucrative business« for his company. And the Slovenian Economy Minister, Andrej Vizjak, was also not as hostile to the idea, showing that there has been debate within the Slovenian government itself. Environment Minister Janez Podobnik:

"It's normal to me that the minister of economy is more open to such ideas, but if you want to build such a terminal you first have to get all the necessary permissions to do so. This place, the bay of Koper, is so sensitive and such a precious piece of the Slovenian coast, that I don't believe such a project, even if it were economically beneficial, would be acceptable."

In the meantime, leading daily newspaper Delo speculated that the whole issue might be a »red herring« -- a project that distracts the public from other controversial ideas, such as the construction of a new nuclear power plant.