Via Baltica - Another landmark victory for Poland's nature
The recent decision by the Polish Council of Ministers on a new routing for the Via Baltica expressway has been welcomed by campaigners from CEE Bankwatch Network, BirdLife International, OTOP (BirdLife in Poland) and other environmental groups as major progress for the conservation of Poland’s unique nature and represents a significant step in the right direction towards the proper implementation of Polish and European environmental legislation.
Nonetheless, the groups that have campaigned on a range of highly controversial major road plans in north-east Poland for some years now stressed that the new decree on the Via Baltica motorways and expressways’ network does not mark the end of their efforts to save a number of valuable sites – protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 network – from road construction plans in the region.
According to the decree, the Polish part of the Via Baltica expressway – part of the EU’s Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) – will have to be constructed in line with the recommendations made by experts and the findings of a Strategic Environmental Assessment that has taken several years to complete.
Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at the BirdLife European Division, commented: "This case shows once more that conflicts between nature conservation and infrastructure development can be solved through proper planning and political will – unfortunately it took the authorities seven years to learn this lesson as far as Via Baltica is concerned".
Dr Helen Byron, a senior RSPB international site casework officer, added: “[..] Sadly, this doesn't mean our work is over entirely - we still need to protect sites along the 'old' Via Baltica route and ensure that construction on the new route goes ahead so that this isn't just a paper victory. But this is an absolutely fantastic step forward ensuring a brighter future for the wildlife of this naturally diverse region”.
"This case shows once more that conflicts between nature conservation and infrastructure development can be solved" —Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager of BirdLife International
Such an outcome has been demanded by the European Parliament and Bern Convention as well as by environmental groups. This routing of the road via Lomza, confirmed now by the government, is not only the environmentally sound option but it is also valid on economic, traffic and social grounds. The decision means that the expected stream of heavy good vehicles will not have negative impacts on three Natura 2000 sites: the Biebrza Marshes, and the Knyszyn and Augustow Primeval Forests. However, it does not bring an automatic halt to current road construction work inside the Knyszyn Forest or other environmentally harmful road development plans in north-east Poland.
Marta Majka Wisniewska, Polish national coordinator for Bankwatch, said: “Today's decision from the Council of Ministers does not close the case of egregious road development in north-east Poland. There is a further need to change other strategic documents, in particular the current list of investments under the Operational Programme 'Infrastructure & Environment' and the Polish proposal on TEN-T revision. And, of course, the devil will be in the final implementation of today's positive outcome.”
Malgorzata Gorska, IBA Casework Officer of OTOP (BirdLife in Poland), commented: ”As these road developments have been proceeding at high speed, Natura 2000 sites like the Knyszyn Forest and the Biebrza Marshes are still under threat. Our task is to ensure that all environmentally harmful road projects along the old routing of the Via Baltica, as queried by the European Commission, are halted or modified. With the new route for the Via Baltica corridor settled there is no need to continue with these large scale projects on the old route which will needlessly damage Natura 2000 sites.”
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Credits: OTOP (BirdLife in Poland), RSPB (BirdLife in the UK)