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18th Apr 2021

Poland backs down on controversial roadworks

  • The protected area is home to the world's only population of aquatic warblers, as well as rare eagles, lynx, wolves and wild orchids (Photo: EUobserver)

The Polish government has for the moment backed down in a standoff with the European Commission over a planned highway route through an EU nature protected area.

Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski told Polish Radio that construction work, scheduled to start Wednesday (1 August) on a 17km elevated highway section across the Rospuda River Valley, has been postponed until the European Court of Justice (ECJ) rules on the issue.

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"The work in the Rospuda valley will not start," Mr Kaczynski the PR1 public radio on Tuesday (30 July). He added however that work would still be carried out on other parts of the highway outside of the environmentally protected area.

"We simply have to show patience because I wanted to convince our partners in the European Commission on this matter," he said, a day after the commission stepped up the pressure by asking the ECJ to impose an injunction on construction in the Rospuda Valley in northeast Poland.

The Polish leader insisted that Warsaw would eventually win the legal challenge started by Brussels in March this year against the particular part of the highway, saying that the he did not believe the steps taken by the commission were based on sound legal grounds.

The commission said on Monday (30 July) that it would have been "unprecedented" if Poland had chosen to continue the roadworks after being presented with an injunction to stop, and Warsaw could have faced daily fines.

EU-protected

The construction of the bypass near Augustów in north-east Poland – now put on hold – is set to form a section of the Via Baltica – or European route E67 - which is part of an international highway system linking Warsaw with Helsinki via the Baltic states.

The bypass through the Rospuda valley was planned to alleviate the town of Augustów of the over 4,000 trucks that pass through the town centre every day.

Although the Via Baltica is EU-funded, the bypass itself would not receive EU funds because the Rospuda valley is protected under the EU's Natura 2000 conservation scheme and is recognised by Brussels as having special environmental interest.

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