Poland defies green activists, EU with Baltic canal project

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on March 4, 2019 - Duration: 02:00s

Poland defies green activists, EU with Baltic canal project

Poland is pressing ahead with plans to dig a waterway across a narrow strip of land that separates its main eastern coastline from the Baltic Sea despite concerns among activists and in the European Union that it could damage the environment.

Pascale Davies reports.

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Poland defies green activists, EU with Baltic canal project

Despite environmental activists best efforts, Poland's government is pushing ahead with plans for a canal to bypass a stretch of land and water controlled by Russia.

Estimated to cost $237 million, the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party is distrustful of Russia and says it's needed for security and economic reasons.

(SOUNDBITE) (Polish) MINISTER OF MARITIME ECONOMY, MAREK, GROBARCZYK, SAYING: "This is the border of the European Union, NATO and above all of Poland, and it cannot really be controlled now because ships can only enter the Vistula Lagoon with Russia's approval.

Therefore, from the point of view of security and defense, this canal is to play a completely new role today." The Vistula Spit is a heavily wooded sandbank, 55 km long but less than 2 km wide, and which encloses a lagoon.

Poland shares both the lagoon and the spit with the neighboring Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

And the only access to the lagoon from the Baltic Sea is a channel at the Russian end of the spit.

The EU has said Poland shouldn't build the canal until it has Brussels' approval first - some of the reasons were down to environmental concerns.

While work on the canal hasn't started, preparation has.

(SOUNDBITE) (Polish) REPRESENTATIVE FROM KRYNICA MORSKA MAYOR'S OFFICE, JOLANTA KWIATKOWSKA, SAYING: "Our hearts bleed when we see the forest being chopped down because it has irreversibly changed our nature." And residents fear it could have an impact on local business.

(SOUNDBITE) (Polish) KRYNICA MORSKA RESIDENT, MARZENA, SAYING: "If you look at it from the fishermen's perspective, it will get worse for sure, mostly because our fish stock will become impoverished and I cannot imagine fishermen co-existing with large ships." Tourism could be affected too, as the surrounding beaches have a relatively modest tourist infrastructure.

The Law and Justice party says that the canal will turn the small port of Elbarg into one of Poland's biggest harbors.

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