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Via Baltica Expressway: Construction to destroy Poland’s Rospuda Valley

…all set to start

The construction in north-east Poland of the highly controversial section of the Via Baltica expressway – the Augustow Town bypass – through the pristine Rospuda wetlands is set to start today.

Last night the decision to start building was announced by both Poland’s Minister of Environment, Jan Szyszko, and Tadeusz Topczewski, the director of the General Directorate for Roads and Highways in Bialystok which is the project investor. The European Commission has decided to speed up its legal action against Poland which it started in December 2006 and has reprimanded the Polish government.

Stavros Dimas, the EU’s Commissioner for Environment, was quoted in the Polish media yesterday saying: To prevent irreversible damage to nature we will ask the European Court of Justice to stop the construction.

The Augustow bypass construction faces strong opposition in Poland and also internationally. The Polish President Lech Kaczynski, the Polish Ombudsman, members of the European Parliament and the European Commission have expressed their dissatisfaction with this investment going ahead according to current plans. However, the Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Minister of Environment Szyszko are supporting the construction work.

The European Commission has announced that it is accelerating its infringement procedure and Mr Dimas sent an immediate warning letter to the Polish Ministry of Environment yesterday. It is understood that a final legal warning letter demanding the stopping of the construction work will be sent by the Commission to the Polish government by next Wednesday. The Rospuda valley is designated as a European Natura 2000 site for its outstanding biodiversity values. It provides habitat for the protected Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina and White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla, Western Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, European Lynx Lynx lynx, Grey Wolf Canis lupus and others.

Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager of BirdLife International, said: Together with other NGOs the whole European Partnership of BirdLife International is extremely concerned by the imminent construction work in Poland. Just as other Member States, Poland needs to respect EU nature legislation. There are feasible alternative routes for Via Baltica, which would result in far less damage to some of Europe's most valuable natural sites. We acknowledge the need to upgrade and develop infrastructure in Poland, but any development must follow the EU legal framework. Anything less would be unfair to other Member States and would risk irreversible damage to unique natural heritage. We will continue to follow these developments and raise our concerns with decision-makers in the EU institutions and in Poland.

Magda Stoczkiewicz, Policy coordinator of CEE Bankwatch Network in Brussels and herself Polish, said: The arrogance of the Polish Ministry of Environment in this case is truly remarkable and damaging not only to a unique European nature site but also to our image as a country.

4th July 2014