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Poland defies green activists and the EU with Baltic canal project

TVN24 News in English

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.

The Vistula Spit is a heavily wooded sandbank 55 km (34 miles) long but less than 2 km wide which encloses a coastal lagoon. Poland shares both the lagoon and the spit with the neighbouring Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

Currently, the only access to the lagoon from the Baltic Sea is a channel at the Russian end of the spit. Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), deeply distrustful of Russia, says a canal is needed for both security and economic reasons.

Defending the project, which is estimated to cost 900 million zlotys ($237 million), Poland's Minister for Maritime Affairs Marek Gróbarczyk said "a threat from the east" was the primary reason for the construction.

However, an EU official said on Friday (March 1) Poland should refrain from building the canal before it wins approval from the European Commission after Warsaw failed to assuage Brussels' environmental concerns about the project.

Parts of the Vistula Spit are protected by EU environmental rules and environmentalists say it is difficult to predict the impact that the canal's construction will have on species living in the area, including cormorants and Baltic seals.

Residents in the town of Krynica Morska, which lies on the Spit and would be left on an island shared by Poland and Russia if the canal was constructed, are also concerned.

Jolanta Kwiatkowska, a representative of the mayor's office in the town of Krynica Morska, said its residents were upset by logging of trees on the canal's proposed route. "Our hearts bleed when we see the forest being chopped down" she said.

A group of activists from 'Vistula Spit Camp' joined residents of Krynica Morska protesting against canal construction in late February.

Beaches on the Vistula Spit, which has relatively modest tourist infrastructure, are wilder and less-visited than most of Poland's Baltic coast. But the handful of households on the Spit live mostly from tourism.

PiS says the canal will turn Elbląg, a small port on the lagoon with a high unemployment rate, into one of Poland's biggest harbours, along with Gdańsk and Szczecin, as more vessels will moor there.

Autor: gf / Źródło: TVN24 News in English, Reuters TV

Źródło zdjęcia głównego: tvn24

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