This has been a bad day for nature conservation here in Iceland. A group of protesters who have been tirelessly campaigning against a proposed new road out to Álftanes were arrested this morning and forcibly removed from the site.
The protests concern a stretch of lava field that lies between the road from Hafnarfjörður to Reykjavík, and the Álftanes peninsula [where the president's residence is, for those not familiar with it]. The dispute is over the new road that will bisect the lava field and destroy precious natural relics. The lava field is on a list of protected nature sites. They also contend that the original environmental assessment is outdated, since the proposed plan of an 8,000-person residential site nearby is no longer valid. They also maintain that the current road is quite adequate to serve the area, particularly given that the original plan no longer exists, and that it could be fixed to serve its function even better for a fraction of the cost of building a new road.
The dispute has been ongoing for a while now. The protesters, who have dubbed themselves Hraunvinir or “Friends of the lava,” have tried unsuccessfully to have the construction deemed illegal. They lost in district court, and have now appealed to the Supreme Court. If their plea is rejected there they say they are prepared to take the matter to the EFTA court.
Despite the appeal being pending at the Supreme Court, the contractor got out the heavy machinery a few weeks ago, ready to start the job. Protestors showed up on the site and blocked the construction by physically standing in the way of the bulldozers. Further construction was subsequently put on hold.
The same thing happened this morning. The contractor turned up to start the con- … or should I say destruction, and the protesters were already there, blocking the bulldozer. This time, however, 20-30 police officers showed up as well, arresting the protesters and physically carrying a number of them off to jail. Among the arrested were several well-known personalities, including Ómar Ragnarsson, one of Iceland’s best-loved entertainers and a tireless campaigner for nature protection.
The protesters are demanding a halt to the proceedings until they have been deemed legit, or not. The Directorate of Roads, on the other hand, along with the municipality of Garðabær [on which the land is located] say that this could mean a delay of up to three years, especially if the case goes to the EFTA court. The deal has already been signed with the contractor and the cost of paying damages will be far too high if construction doesn’t start immediately.
Indeed, given what the Hraunvinir are claiming – that the road could be amended for a fraction of the cost of the new one – one wonders if that’s what this is really about, i.e. since the deal has already been signed with the contractor, the show must go on.
This is so typical of Iceland. Shoot first, ask questions later, is all-too often the motto around here … or, in this case, destroy the lava first, decide on the legitimacy later. And sadly – unbelievably – they almost get away with it. It’s so infuriating, and so sad.
[photo borrowed from DV, who also have a video]