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Poland halts wetlands road plan?

Two reports from different sources.

Poland rebuffs EU over project in protected area

WARSAW: The Polish government said Monday that it planned to go ahead with the construction of a highway through an environmentally protected area even though the European Union has asked a court to block the project.

"We don't see any reason to change our plans at the moment," said Andrzej Maciejewski, spokesman for the government's road building agency. "There's no alternative route."

Poland plans to build the road through the Rospuda Valley in northeastern Poland, a region protected by national and international environmental laws. The valley boasts rare orchids, protected birds like cranes, and animals like otters, beavers and lynx.

The European Commission, the EU's regulatory branch in Brussels, said in March that it would seek an injunction at the European Court of Justice to stop work on the Via Baltica road, which is to link Warsaw and Helsinki via the Baltic states. It filed the request Friday.

Polish officials broke ground on a section of the road this year and have carried out preliminary work outside the protected zone. Construction was suspended to respect the birds' spring mating season, but it was expected to resume Wednesday.

The decision to go ahead with the project threatens to create a new dispute between Brussels and Warsaw, which have been at odds over a number of issues since Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski's nationalist party won elections in 2005.

"It is regrettable that Poland has now decided to go ahead with the construction of a new road," the EU's environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, said Monday. "I would hope that Poland will reconsider its decision before irreparable damage is done."

A spokeswoman for the commission, Barbara Hellferich, said it would be unprecedented for a member state to go ahead with such work in defiance of an EU order. "This is uncharted territory," she said.

A Polish Transport Ministry spokeswoman, Teresa Jakutowicz, said by telephone: "We have said all along that the road is in line with both Polish and EU law. We're sticking by that."

Residents of the town of Augustow, next to the valley, are protesting the commission's efforts to stop the road's construction and have said they will go to Brussels to demonstrate if necessary. Heavy trucks and other traffic that would travel along the bypass planned for the Rospuda Valley flow through the town.

A spokeswoman for Greenpeace in Poland, Ewa Jakubowska, said: "We're still hoping the government will fall in with the EU's request. But if any trees are cut down, we'll definitely be taking action."


Poland halts wetlands road plan

Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said planned work on a road through one of Europe's last remaining wetlands will not go ahead.
Earlier, Poland said construction work on a bypass through the environmentally protected Rospuda river valley would start on Wednesday.

But the prime minister changed his mind after the EU applied for an immediate injunction to stop the work.

The valley is home to rare plants as well as wolves and eagles.

Speaking on Polish public radio, Mr Kaczynski said his government had failed to convince the European Commission and it was now time to show a certain restraint.

The valley is also protected under the EU's Natura 2000 conservation scheme.

Peaceful protest

The government wants to build an elevated highway right through the valley to ease traffic in the nearby town of Augustow.

The town lies on the main route from Poland to the Baltic states and thousands of heavy goods lorries pass through it every day.

Hundreds of people from the town spent the whole night blocking the road in a peaceful protest.

They want the bypass built as quickly as possible, even if that means routing it through the valley.

Until now, the government has argued that an alternative route suggested by environmental conservation groups would take too long to build.