Poland changes highway plan to save rare wetland

Warsaw, Poland (AP) – Poland’s environment minister said Tuesday
that plans for a new highway have been changed to save one of
Europe’s last pristine wetlands.

Maciej Nowicki told a news conference that authorities have
decided to route the highway around the Rospuda Valley in
northeastern Poland. Work will probably start next year, he
said.

Previous plans to have a 10-mile (16-kilometer) section of the
highway go over the valley on concrete pillars drew protests from
environmentalists and an injunction from the European Union.

“Piercing the peat bog with pillars was certain to make it
disappear,” Nowicki said.

Nowicki said the new bypass saves the wetland, is cheaper and
only 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) longer than the protested plan.

Poland will ask the EU to lift its injunction, he said.

The highway is part of the Via Baltica, linking Poland to
Finland, and will bypass the congested town of Augustow. Residents
have lobbied for the highway, saying incessant truck traffic causes
high accident rates and deteriorates infrastructure in
Augustow.

The previous plan for the highway would have routed it through
500 yards (meters) of peat bog surrounded by a virgin pine forest
that is home to eagles, wolves, lynx and wild orchids.

In 2007, a group of environmentalists chained themselves to
trees in the forest to prevent work on the road, and the EU sought
a legal injunction to prevent Poland from starting construction.
Ignoring a court order could have brought Poland hefty fines.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said it was a “success” that the new
project “took into account both the ecology and the infrastructure
needs while respecting our laws and those of the EU.”

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