From: Associated Press
Published May 21, 2007 10:00 AM

Referendum Over Highway Through Rare Peat Bog in Poland Ruled Invalid

WARSAW -- A referendum on whether to build a highway through a rare peat bog protected by European Union habitat laws failed to muster the necessary voter turnout and has been declared invalid, election officials said Monday.


Turnout for the local referendum on the planned construction of a 500-meter (yard) stretch of highway through the Rospuda River valley was only 21.56 percent, said Bogumila Karniewicz, deputy head of the referendum commission in nearby Bialystok, northeastern Poland.


Ninety-three percent of voters backed the highway's construction, but turnout was far short of the 30-percent threshold needed for the referendum to be valid, Karniewicz said.


The result deals a blow to Poland's ruling Law and Justice party, which sponsored the referendum in an attempt to strengthen its hand in its dispute with the European Commission over the project.


The commission has taken Poland to Europe's top court to prevent the construction of the highway.


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While even a valid result would have no legal impact on the court's ruling, Poland's government had hoped to use strong popular backing from the referendum to bolster its case before the court.


Poland's government says the road is needed to relieve heavy truck traffic clogging the nearby town of Augustow and that it would provide an economic boost to a rapidly developing region.


Opponents say building the highway across the habitat of rare plants and animals would wreak havoc with ecosystems and destroy the area's pristine beauty.


Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said that caving in to pressure would be a bad precedent for the whole project to build some 7,000 kilometers (4,000 miles) of badly needed highways in Poland by the year 2020.


No heavy equipment is at the site and construction has been temporarily halted to respect a ban on disturbing the peace from March to July, when storks and other birds lay their eggs.


Source: Associated Press


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