From: Amana Ferro 

by Vesna Peric Zimonjic

BELGRADE (IPS) - The controversy over construction of a major highway in 
western Romania that threatens to destroy the precious Retezat and Domogled 
natural reserve parks has been put off at least for now. 

Authorities have decided to temporarily halt the project after the 
environmental aspect of building the much advertised Route 66a came into focus, 
with leading experts calling for the plan to be dismantled. 

"This is just the first victory in a long battle," Greenpeace coordinator for 
Romania, Gabriel Paun, told IPS on phone from Romanian capital Bucharest. "The 
break now provides us with a gap for further assessment of the project itself." 

Greenpeace had been warning that construction of the road was illegal, and that 
hastily drawn up plans to use international funds had bypassed necessary 
licences from planning commissions, environmental agencies and the Scientific 
Council of the Retezat Park. 

Construction of the controversial road has reached a point now only a kilometre 
from Retezat forest. The road was meant to connect the towns of Petrosani and 
Baile Herculane, long neglected in broader development plans. 

Retezat and nearby Domogled in that region are considered among the last 
remaining unspoilt forests in Europe. Situated in the west of the country in 
the southern Carpathians region, they are home to more than 1,200 plant 
species, some 60 of them found only in this area. 

They are also home to many animal species long driven out of other areas of 
Europe by industrialisation and modern life. 

Retezat, proclaimed a nature park back in 1935, is home to chamoises, wolves, 
wildcats and lynx. Its 2,500-metre-high peaks are home to rare golden eagles 
and other wild birds. 

In Domogled, the rare black pine Banat still survives, one of the rarest 
species of pines. 

But the economic development of Romania, a nation of 22.3 million that is to 
join the European Union (EU) Jan. 1, 2007, has led to significant degradation 
of the environment. 

"The construction of Road 66a was presented to people as a major opportunity 
for further economic development," Paun told IPS. "I understand how poor people 
are there, but there's no excuse to tell them that this is revitalisation that 
will make the areas prosperous tourist centres." 

Construction of the road has been much debated in Romanian media. According to 
some reports, the decision to build it came after the EU signalled the need for 
upgrading major routes. 

Romanian President Traian Basescu is reported to have said last summer on a 
visit to Petrosani that Road 66a "should be built, and that is it." This 
boosted his popularity in the former mining centre that has economically 
collapsed since the fall of communism in 1989. 

Much of the environment was found to have collapsed earlier. Immediately after 
the end of communism, it became clear that there had been almost no 
environmental policy. 

Some 20 percent of Romanian rivers were dead by 1989. The air, and also the 
soil and underground waters were polluted with toxic chemicals from factories, 
mining and chemical fertilisers. 

The moves to join the EU brought growing interest in the environment. Romania 
now has the fastest growing environmental activities in the Balkans. 

Reports by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Wildlife 
Fund (WWF) and Greenpeace say Romanian environmental legislation now complies 
with more than 90 percent of EU regulations. 

"People are now definitely ecologically smarter," Paun said. "This helps us to 
do everything we can to prevent destruction of the remaining intact 
environment." (END)

"Let me know, that at least, she will try
Then she'll be a true love of mine"

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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