Save Polesia Petition handed over to European Parliament  – EU to investigate Siarzewo barrier decision making

On 22nd of January, we presented the petition against Siarzewo dam and the E40 waterway at the PETI Committee’s monthly hearing in Brussels.

The petition by Wemove, Avaaz and the Save Polesia partnership was signed by more than 143 000 people.

What is the issue?

The Vistula – the Queen of the Polish rivers – is under threat from the Siarzewo barrier which is the first planned dam of the E40 waterway. This waterway is recognized as one of the most important issues for nature conservation in the world.

The Vistula is preserved in a natural or semi-natural state in many sections. It provides habitats for many species. But now they are at risk.

The Siarzewo barrage construction is a textbook example of salami slicing—dividing substantial investments into smaller sections to bypass proper environmental impact assessments. The overall project of E40 waterway in Poland entails building approximately 12 dams on the Vistula River followed by excavating a 165-kilometer artificial channel through natural river valleys.

The whole E40 waterway that would connect the Baltic and the Black seas, is anticipated to adversely affect almost 200 internationally protected areas, including 66 Natura 2000 sites in Poland, with 14 facing direct impact.

The situation is alarming

The estimated cost of construction of the Siarzewo barrage is 1.7 billion euro. This is public money that Polish citizens are going to pay.

Presenting the petition for the PETI Committee, Marek Elas from Save Polesia’s partner OTOP – BirdLife Poland said: “The justification for the construction of the barrier has changed over the years. Currently, the main goal according to national strategic documents is the development of inland navigation. At the same time there are excellent railways going parallel to the Vistula river, already modernized with EU money. Inland navigation is not needed”.

The environment impact assessment (EIA) decision for this investment was issued in 2017. Six years ago, Polish NGOs filed an appeal against this decision. They pointed out that the decision only took impacts on three Natura 2000 areas into account, when at least two more would be negatively affected.

 During these six years, access to public information has been restricted. The appeal is still pending.

Nevertheless, under a strange legal clause the EIA is already valid even though the appeal is still pending.The construction of the Siarzewo barrier can proceed at any time.

“What I am talking about is not a theoretical situation, even after the change of government in Poland following the October elections, the new government has already included in the state budget for 2024 almost four million euros for further preparations for the project,” – underlined Marek Elas in his speech.

What’s next?

The European Commission committed to having a structured dialogue with Poland to find out more about what is going on with Siarzewo barrage and E40 waterway plans. The PETI Committee decided to keep the Petition open to await updates and progress.

“We are grateful to people who signed the petition and spoke up for the rivers. Thanks to them, we have  raised the issue up the political agenda. We remain worried about the already valid EIA procedure, which is hanging like a black cloud over the Vistula”  – says Wouter Langhout of the Save Polesia partnership.

Further information

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*Top image shows Wouter Langhout (Save Polesia) and Marek Elas (OTOP) in Brussels.