RIGA - The government decided to allocate 100,000 lats (142,288 euros) to the eastern county of Ludza for coping with problems caused by the long lines of trucks on the Latvian-Russian border.
The Regional Development and Municipality Affairs Ministry said they had received a letter from the Ludza municipality asking for assistance. Specifically, the city asked for money to clean up roads near the Terehova and Grebneva border points, as they had been littered with trash and visibly damaged from the high number of heavy trucks crawling through.
The government dipped into its emergency situations fund for the money.
Still, officials have criticized the solution, saying it only alleviates the symptoms but doesn't address the cause of the problem.
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis told journalists that Latvia should work together with the European Union and Russia, otherwise there is no hope for a quick solution.
"The lines cannot be turned around or stopped," said the PM.
On Dec. 11, there were 1,057 trucks waiting at the Terehova checkpoint (down from 1,107 trucks on Dec. 9) and another 320 trucks at the Grebneva checkpoint (down from 390).
Ludza County Council Chairman Juris Dombrovskis told the Baltic News Service that the money is "too late and should have been allocated a couple of months ago when the situation was not yet critical."
As The Baltic Times went to press, the municipalities involved in the problem were holding extraordinary meetings to discuss how best to utilize the funds.
Dombrovskis said the money should be spent on solving Ludza's most urgent problem 's cleaning up the roadsides. "Roadsides are in terrible condition. We have to do everything to avoid any possible epidemic arising from that by spring," he said.
He added that the line of trucks already stretched 40 kilometers long, and that drivers were not using the public toilets recently set up, choosing to use the roadside instead. What's more, the area is covered with trash because garbage cans "have mysteriously disappeared."
"Maybe we should put up posters and launch a campaign to stop drivers from littering their surroundings," said Dombrovskis.
He said the 100,000 lats would cover basic clean-up costs, but "no grand changes can be made from this amount."
The abnormal lines on the Latvian-Russian border began in late-August after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that something must be done to stop contraband from entering Russia. This resulted in stricter enforcement of Russian customs laws, which resulted in alarming backup at Estonian and Latvian border points (See story on Page 11).
Officials say the congestion is a threat to traffic safety since waiting drivers create heaps of litter on the roadside. What's more, the problem has greatly annoyed locals who have to live with the trucks' constant engine noise.
In the meantime, tempers are mounting on the border. On Dec. 12, truck drivers blocked the road to the Terehova crossing point in a protest.
The situation got so out of hand, that Dombrovskis threatened to block roads leading to the border.
"If another couple of hundred trucks join the lines at the border we will have no other option but to block the roads already this week," Dombrovskis was quoted by the Neatkariga daily as saying.
He added that further protests by locals and truckers would not surprise him.