Better late than never!
Release of environmental consent for the Augustow bypass confirms that the Rospuda Valley is safe
At the very end of 2009 the Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection in Bialystok, Poland, released the environmental consent for the Augustow bypass. The consent confirms that the road, part of the new Via Baltica corridor, will bypass the Augustow Primeval Forest Natura 2000 site and the magnificent Rospuda Valley.
This news should finally bring an end to a long-running saga that has seen Poland clash with the European Commisson over the potential abuse of EU environmental law which, as a result, has led to increased safety risks and inconvenience for the residents of Augustow that still have to contend with large volumes of heavy goods vehicles traversing the north-east Polish town.
As Malgorzata Gorska, IBA Casework Officer at OTOP (BirdLife in Poland) points out: “As a result of mistakes made by previous authorities and the necessity of a new alternative analysis, the environmental consent for the Augustow bypass is three years late. Ensuring these sensible changes to the Via Baltica routing has taken us six years. Everything costs Poland too much energy and time”.
The Augustow bypass stands, then, as a textbook bad example of how reckless disregard for the natural environment – and for the EU environmental law designed to protect it – is in nobody’s best interest. The case should serve as a startling wake-up call to infrastructure developers across central and eastern Europe.
"This is a big and full victory for all the people who raised their voices for Rospuda Valley back in 2007" —Rastislav Rybanic, EU Nature Policy Officer at BirdLife International's European Division
The current route, laid out in this latest decision, bypasses the Augustow Primeval Forest Natura 2000 site. The marsh valley of the Rospuda River has also not been compromised. The flyover across the Rospuda river next to the Raczki village will not impact the valuable fens.
“Finally, this is a big and full victory for all the people who raised their voices for Rospuda Valley back in 2007. It is very symbolic that this news came at the beginning of the International Year of Biodiversity and this example shows that everybody can do his bit for saving nature and biodiversity for a better, healthier and safer planet”, commented Rastislav Rybanic, EU Nature Policy Officer at BirdLife International’s European Division.
If the relevant authorities, including the Polish Road Agency, treat the investment as a priority and the tender is announced early in 2010, the opening of the new, 40 km long bypass (for Augustow and Suwalki) will be possible in 3 years’ time.
The environment groups that have been closely involved in the case believe that the experience with the Augustow bypass and Via Baltica expressroad will help regional authorities, politicians and investors in future during decisions-making processes for other major infrastructure projects. These include a regional airport whose currently proposed siting is being challenged by its potential impacts on Natura 2000 sites in north-east Poland.
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Credits: BirdLife European Division