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 They also contend that the original environmental assessment is outdated, since the proposed plan of an 8,000-person residential site nearby is no longer valid.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]
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Coming from the country where a bunch of Boy Scout “leaders” just destroyed a 200-million year old rock formation in a National Park, perhaps I should not, ahem, cast stones, but I have to agree this is infuriating and sad. Certain things have not changed that much, it would seem, since the days of those chaps stomping out the last Great Auks. (Oh for a time-machine. And a very heavy iron skillet…)
Could location of the President’s residence be a factor?
I get cross when Big Wigs use their public power for personal gain. Good luck, Iceland!
Does rather show the different priorities of the two recent governments. One created Ómar Ragnarsson Day (okay, okay, Icelandic Nature Day) and the other arrests him. Has Halldór drawn a cartoon of Jóhannes Kjarval painting bulldozers?
Katharine – he hasn’t, so the field is wide open. 😉
Indeed, infuriating and sad. But not a surprise. Typical for plutocracies as opposed to democracies.
As to the greater picture: Most recent polls seem to indicate that the coalition parties are loosing voter support. Is there a perspective ? If yes, is the opposition taking advantage of the momentum?
Ps.: What does it all mean that the prime minister is on a vacation? Rumors have it he’s on a cruise tour ?
“the prime minister is on a vacation? Rumors have it he’s on a cruise tour ?”
One could wish on the Costa Concordia… 😉
I see what you mean but its too late for the Concordia. The opposition has to learn to act before the fact.
Michael – yes, they are losing support, and yes the opposition is of course taking advantage. None of this comes as a surprise, though – neither their losses in the polls nor the PM being away in Florida on holiday (he’s back now, apparently, and I hadn’t heard the one about him being on a cruise). People are starting to realize what this government really and truly about. And of course he goes on vacation while things are falling apart at home – that’s the world from which he comes. He and his lot are “the entitled” and this is the world they know – the world of money and luxury vacations, earned by having the biggest ladles with which to dip into the common coffers.
Still, I (a foreigner) get too much feedback from the government and too little from the opposition. Some of my Icelandic friends seem to agree. That would be a problem in itself.
Otherwise, looks like we have two problems: one, the Álftanes road, two, some suspicious contract. Wonder: would the supreme court allow its decision to be bypassed by that contract (?), and has the opposition tried to obtain an injunction against that contract ?
Michael – what sort of feedback do you mean? I’m not sure I follow you. – As for the opposition and this particular question, you’re right, they haven’t taken a stand.