It took almost a year to settle the conflict between ecology activists, politicians and Augustow inhabitants.
An anxiously sought compromise has been reached: Augustow will get the by-pass it has been demanding for years and ecologists can be sure that Rospuda remains undisturbed, the Polish daily newspaper Dziennik informed.
The conflict began a year earlier when the construction of a highly controversial section of the Via Baltica expressway – the Augustow Town bypass – through the pristine Rospuda wetlands in northeast Poland was proposed. The decision to commence building was announced by Poland’s Environmental Department head, Jan Szyszko, and Tadeusz Topczewski, the Director of the Bureau for Roads and Highways in Bialystok- which is the project investor, despite the fact that the region is protected by the EU Natura 2000 program.
This decision met a number of protests both in Poland and abroad. The European Commission opened legal procedures against the Polish government, as the road development passing across the Rospuda wetlands would severely damage protected natural sites.
Also, Polish Ombudsman appealed for halting the construction works. He claimed that there was an alternative bypass project that should be taken into consideration.
This environmentally sound project worked its way around the Rospuda valley and was even less costly than the environmentally harmful variant, which had already been accepted.
However, despite the strong opposition, the construction works was not put to a halt. The EU sent its commission of environmental experts to overhaul the disputable investment.
The result of its work sped up the legal action against Poland, which began in December of 2006. Stavros Dimas, the EU Environmental Commissioner, has reprimanded the Polish government and set forth an appeal to stop the construction.
However, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Environmental Board of Director Szyszko were the strong supporters of the harmful construction works.
To the relief of many environmentalists and residents of Augustow, the situation has changed just after the new election.
The victor of the parliamentary elections, the Civic Platform (PO), has pointed a finger at the group of experts in charge of the construction, who in turn, have agreed to take the alternative route of the Via-Baltica into consideration again.
This new, environmentally-safe project amplifies the idea of building an expressway from Poland to Lithuania, from Warsaw straight to Suwalki and the Lithuanian border, via Lomza and Elk, omitting the Rospuda valley.
This means that a highway will not disturb the wetlands.
Augustow inhabitants, who have objected to the enormous traffic and dangerous roads via the centre of Augustow for many years have something to be glad about – they will have the bypass they have been fighting so long for.
“Finally someone has admitted that the Baltic expressway from Poland to Lithuania, the so-called Via Baltica, can be built somewhere else, without damaging the unique Rospuda Valley near Augustow,” Polish environmentalists said on Polish Radio.