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Highway 66A Affair

Published 14th November 2009 - 15 comments - 3343 views -

Torn between people's love for nature and love for money, the Romanian mountains scream in silence. Sometimes, they get angry and throw stones and avalanches. Some other times they smile and grow flowers as not seen anywhere else in the world. When they cry, lakes form to whisper their sorrow. As their child, I hope to speak for their muted wounds. Because this is the soul of my country.

Highway from Hell

A highway is planned to be rammed through the heart of the southern Carpathians, skirting Retezat National Park and driving through core areas of Domogled National Park. The only virgin forest on our good old continent happens to be in Romania and is now endangered by the construction of the thirs and last section of National Road 66A (DN66) that will connect Petrosani to Baile Herculane, road that is planned to pass right through the National Reserve Domogled-Cerna Valley, part of the Retezat National Park.

The Administration of the National Park, with the support of the Scientific Council of the reservation have already consented to the building of the third highway section. But National Reserve Domogled-Cerna Valley, one of the most beautiful and best preserved areas in Romania may still have a chance before the construction company pulls out their chainsaws.

Among other legal documents needed by a construction company to start building whatever, there is an environmental agreement that needs to be signed by local authorities. This agreement attests the legality of building on specific terrain and it's handed out based on a report that covers any project's environmental impact assesment.

Quick Note on Biodiversity

Retezat is famous for its floral diversity, sheltering around 1190 superior plants species of the 3450 species known in Romania. The existence of more than a third of the Romanian flora in this area is one of the reasons for which it was declared a National Park.

More than a half of the Romanian amphibian species totaling 11, can be found in Retezat . Specialists consider 8 of these species as rare and vulnerable, at the national level.

The reptiles in the park are represented by 9 species, almost 40% of the Romanian terrestrial reptiles. Although just one species is considered rare at the national level, six of them are considered vulnerable.

As recognition of the importance of butterfly conservation in Retezat, Lunca Berhinei has been declared Area of European Lepidopterous Importance.  

There are 185 species, half of the Romanian bird species. 122 of them nest in the Park and nearby areas. Rare species like the mountain aquila (also represented on the Park logo), Lesser spoter aquila, the serpent eagle, the migratory falcon, the mountain cock, the black stork and other rare species can be found here.

55 species of mammals, 23% of the European terrestrial mammals, have been recorded here. The Park offers survival conditions to the most important European big carnivores: the wolf,  bear and lynx. Big herbivores such as chamois, deer and the roedeer can also be found here.

Their future's not certain. The curtain can fall anytime.

NGOs vs. Administration

Highway 66A Affair sparked a storm of protests from environmentalists who say a road is completely unnecessary. First, because it would be impractical for six months of the year. Another important argument they bring against it is that building a modern means of access would facilitate a massive and uncontrolled tourist rush into the park. This is a hazzard both park rangers and scientific board members also declare themselves concerned about.

Director of the Domogled-Cerna Valley National Park, Ioan Gaspar, however, declared to the media that the environment agreement is not a legal problem, since it was approved by the Scientific Council of the Reserve. "It's a forest road that will be asphalted, it's not the same with building a new road. Impact on the Park will be reduced wherever possible. In addition, there are no further problems with other structures, as local administrations and municipalities of Pades and Tismana agreed to vote landscaping plans that prohibit any further constructions".

 Environmentalists were outraged and asked the administration to withdraw this environmental agreement. Agent Green, WWF, Milvus Group, Transylvanian Carpathian Society and Vier Pfoten (Four Paws) argue the credibility of the report of Environmental Impact Assessment, done for the third section of National Road 66, report labelled by biologist Tamas Papp, as "a scientifical disaster".

Head of the Scientific Council of Domogled-Cerna Valley National Park, Ioan Povara says that the agreement was approved with unanimous votes. "The most worrying problem is not high traffic, but the lack of civilized tourists. Once the highway is finished, there will be waves of tourists. But with proper guards, people bent on destruction (throwing garbage carelessly, setting fires anywhere) will be discouraged."

The decision of the Scientific Council was suprising for the environmentalists who don't understand how glaring mistakes in the Report on Environmental Impact Assessment were overlooked. 

A Little Bit of History Repeating

But this is not a first. Work at the second section of National Road 66 began about nine years ago, as a modernization of an old forest road. Souns familiar right? The construction encountered many problems. Work was suspended by lack of money, or by interventions from the Garda de Mediu (our environmental IRS - that checks all environmental related projects). The construction company has been fined, there were protests over protests, but without taking into account the lack of necessary approvals, they continued to pour asphalt.

"The road has no impact on the Park, but is is dangerous because of the real estate projects and economic developments that may follow. In terms of traffic, it is not justified, especially because six months a year any road is impractical because of the snow. I tried to prevent this construction, but it was impossible. When we tried to block a problem, they began something else. How to say this... they haven't done damages during the construction, but they had a vile attitude" Zoran Acimov (Director of the Retezat National Park) declared in relation to the construction of the second section of DN66.

Letter of the Law

In legal terms, there is a law that clearly specifies that constructions of any kind are prohibited on natural protected areas that include conservation of natural habitats, flora and fauna - like Domogled - Cerna Valley Reserve is. But laws are meant to be broken tricked as the Scientific Council of the reservation declared the strip of land to be asphalted as area of sustainable development, hence road construction is allowed.

Maria Mihul, the Romanian WWF's biodiversity coordinator, says that no documentation showing that the change was made legal has ever been seen.

What Next?

A meeting between the Romanian government, members of the Scientific Council and representatives of NGOs is set for November 26 and if the environmentalists' arguments prove correct, the Council will reconsider its position. Prospect outcomes? I don't know. It all depends of who is going to be 'the government' on the 26th and how well s/he will sleep a night before.

Further reading & references:

Photo credits in listed order:

Category: Climate Reporting, | Tags: environment, romania, biodiversity, retezat national park,



Comments

Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 15th November 2009:

Great informative post as always smile

“The most worrying problem is not high traffic, but the lack of civilized tourists. Once the highway is finished, there will be waves of tourists. But with proper guards, people bent on destruction (throwing garbage carelessly, setting fires anywhere) will be discouraged.”

This part reminded me of the illegaly built lift in the Bulgarian Rila mountains. A very sensitive natural habitat was open for a totally new kind of toursists, less civiized maybe, and definitely in totally new numbers.

I don’t think it is all bad - after all new people get the chance to experience the environment, and a chance to understand their part in it. But probably the problems are bigger than the good side effects…

Aditya on 15th November 2009:

This is outrageous… kp writing ma’am..
i’ll kp retweeting abt it…
really informative post…

btw, d post is nt presented in documentary style. bt, frm d followiung paragraph, it is evident dat d writing is vry expressive & possess high literature value…
“Torn between people’s love for nature and love for money, the Romanian mountains scream in silence. Sometimes, they get angry and throw stones and avalanches. Some other times they smile and grow flowers as not seen anywhere else in the world. When they cry, lakes form to whisper their sorrow. As their child, I hope to speak for their muted wounds. Because this is the soul of my country.”
i like it.

& yes, daniel is right.
problems r bigger dan good side effects!

Adela on 15th November 2009:

I’ve checked the pics from Rila mountains. And the first comment there is

‘Can not you put an asphalt road so we do not have to walk on gravel? I get sore feet and to walk on gravel.’

If asphalted road interferes with the habitat, I wouldn’t do it for all the tourists in the world. Just like Retezat, nobody stops one to go there. But making it more comfortable for people (by pouring asphalt), would mean death of species and irreparable changes within biodiversity in the long run.

As for civilized people, there’s a novel waiting to be written on the issue smile And I doubt that it would make us proud.

Adela on 15th November 2009:

@Aditya Thank you.
I usually try to stay objective & stick to the facts, but mountains have been here long before we came and many of us forgot about it.

Aija Vanaga on 15th November 2009:

This is nuts! That’s a beauty place, nature and great world of diversity! Why the hell there is need for road?

Alternatives?
Somehow I am screaming for more information - why this place .. because straight way.. or? Is there any logical reason behind?

Adela on 15th November 2009:

@Aija - There is no need.

It’s true that many of the roads in Romania are awful and 66A would be a modern & shorter route between the two towns. But there are 172km between Petrosani & Baile Herculane. A car drive of ~3h now. It’s not that bad.

And it’s not one of those things that can be excused through ‘the ends justify the means’. But our president supported this project so it went on for a while. Then NGOs were outrages (for good reason) and now it’s stopped.

Hopefully, the solution they’ll come up with will be reliable for the National Park.

Aija Vanaga on 15th November 2009:

@Adela

If there s no logical and reasonable ground then there shouldn’t be option to make it.
I do hope the financing does not came from EU ..

Adela on 15th November 2009:

Logic & reasons don’t work in a country where money buy almost everything.

This month, on the 26th, there should be a (temporary) answer given about whether to go on with building the road and I’ll keep you posted.

Nanne Zwagerman on 22nd November 2009:

If an NGO feels an environmental impact assessment is flawed, there should be opportunity to litigate all the way up to the European Court of Justice as per the Aarhus convention. Many road projects in the Netherlands got blocked by the ECJ due to flawed EIAs. Are the Romanian NGOs litigating or are they preparing to litigate?

Lucy Setian on 22nd November 2009:

Rila, doesnt have such problems for a long time ;D

Adela on 22nd November 2009:

@Nanne: It’s not just NGOs, there are many, many people who don’t see any benefits in this project, but it was supported by our president, so it simply went on for a while, regardless of public or NGOs opinions.

If the government & Ministry of Environment here restart the highway construction, the NGOs will go further to the European Court of Justice for sure. It all depends of what happens at the meeting this week.


@Lucy: Daniel gave the Rila example as a somehow similar to our Retezat one, but I don’t have a personal knowledge of what happened there.

Adela on 01st December 2009:

A quick update.

I’ve just found out that The Ministry of Environment DID NOT authorize the removal of the road from the National forestry fund, hence no construction is allowed there.

The next step is a new environment assessment. So, for the time being, Highway 66 Affair has been stopped.

Aija Vanaga on 01st December 2009:

Great news!

Aditya Deo on 02nd December 2009:

Heey, dats gr8….

wisconsin land on 19th March 2010:

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