Polish highway plans under EU threat

Environmentalists have told a Polish firm that it will have to bear financial responsibility for any damage caused by the construction of a controversial highway through protected wetlands, after the Commission issued a warning in December 2006.

The construction firm Budimex-Dromex has won the right to build part of the Via Baltica transport corridor, a highway linking Prague to Heksinki via Poland and the Baltic states. The 670km highway is seen as an important infrastructural project to improve connections between the new member states.

However, a group of five environmental organisations are angered at current plans to run the corridor through important nature sites. In a joint letter to the firm, the group made reference to an EU directive on environmental liability that places responsibility on polluters to pay for any enviornmental damage they cause. That means that operators, and not only project investors and authorities, are equally responsible for harming the environment.

Magda Stoczkiewicz, policy co-ordinator for CEE Bankwatch Network, said: “Although we have suggested a better and greener alternative, the current bypass route around the town of Augustow that is part of the Via Baltica is guaranteed to cause damage as it runs right through the wetlands in the Rospuda Valley. The local authority knows this, the Polish government knows this, the European Commission has verified this, and now the company should be aware that it will be financially liable for the damage.” 

In December 2006, the Commission issued a written warning against the Polish government for agreeing to a series of eight road developments encroaching upon protected wildlife sites along the Via Baltica route.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “I expect the Polish authorities to comply with EU legislation to protect their country’s important natural sites.” 

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