EU, Polish PM delay bypass

  • 2007-08-01
  • By Kimberly Kweder

STAND-OFF: Work on a road bypass in Poland meant to ease transport to Lithuania was stymied as environmental groups protested for an alternative route, and town residents responded with counter protests.

VILNIUS - Construction of a controversial road bypass in Augustow, a northeastern Polish town 60 kilometers from Lithuania along the Via Baltica highway, has been delayed due to environmental concerns. The 17-kilometer stretch of the highway, which is part of the main road artery from the Baltic states into Western Europe, would bypass Augustow by cutting through 500 meters of protected peat bog.
Hundreds of environmental activists pitched tents near the construction area on July 30 and held a protest to oppose the bypass. They claim the road would damage threatened peatlands in the Rospuda Valley, which is protected under the European Union Natura habitat laws. The area is surrounded by a pine forest that is home to eagles, wolves, lynx and wild orchids.

The European Commission on July 30 requested an order from the European Court of Justice to stop further work on the bypass.
A spokesman for Greenpeace in Poland said its members are calling on the government to come up with an alternative bypass route that doesn't disturb any nature grounds.
Augustow residents, however, held a pro-bypass protest on July 30 in which they attempted to block truck traffic along the road for one hour. They are angered by delays in the construction of the bypass, which would divert traffic from the dangerous and overloaded road currently used. In the period from 2001 to 2006, 133 people were killed and 391 injured on the road.
Lithuania has supported the construction process since it started, citing the ongoing problems with road accidents and congestion. There is only one road going through the Kalvarija border post leading to Augustow.
Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski had also been in favor of the bypass, but failed to persuade his partners in the European Commission and has agreed to halt the work. Kacyznski, in an interview on Polish state radio, said work will continue on the parts of the highway that are outside the environmentally protected area
Lithuania's Director of Road Transport, Sarunas Baublys, said the number of trucks crossing at the Kalvarija point reached 1 million last year. Trucks from all three Baltic countries, Russia and Belarus frequent the road.
"I will be happy if a new route is made in an urgent way," Baublys told The Baltic Times. The Lithuanian Transport Ministry has asked Jacques Barrot, the European Commissioner for Transport, to explain to the European Commission's Environ-ment Directorate why Lithuania believes  the case should not be addressed by the European Court of Justice, BNS reported on July 27.

In that phone conversation, Lithuania's Transport Minister Algirdas Butkevicius had asked Barrot to support Poland's earlier decision to work on the Augustow bypass.
Baublys told The Baltic Times that finding an alternative route would cause a major shift in the project's deadline. 
"There's no doubt it's going to take a longer time. In my practice, it takes a long time for preparation, almost two years to process the documents," he said.

 "It is my understanding this route was already adopted and it passed all procedures without objection. But taking into the account the whole of [the local] society, some will lose, some will win," he said.