Yesterday afternoon, a much awaited ruling was issued regarding a controversial power line project in North Iceland, RÚV reports. This was the first of four rulings being awaited regarding the case.
The ruling committee for environmental and natural resource invalidated the decision of Skútustaðahreppur district to agree to grant the company Landsnet a permit to build a power line from Krafla to the industrial area at Bakki, near Húsavík, North Iceland. A silicone plant is being constructed there by the company PCC. The Icelandic Environment Association (Landvernd), and the environmental association Fjöregg had filed a complaint with the committee regarding the power line project.
They believed the project violated environmental laws passed last year, which aim to protect sensitive lava fields. They wanted Landsnet to consider laying parts of the power line underground.
The Icelandic government, upset that there would be foreseeable delays and financial consequences to the project if it were deemed to fall under the new environmental laws, recently presented a bill in parliament, intended to have the power line project resume. The project was halted earlier this fall, due to environmental concerns, while a decision from the ruling committee for environmental and natural resource was being awaited.
The aforementioned environmental agencies furthermore believed the bill presented by the government would violate the right of environmental associations to appeal the decisions of authorities to a court or another independent arbiter. Therefore, they reported the proposed legislation to the EFTA Surveillance Authority, ESA.
Yesterday’s ruling states that Skútustaðahreppur district issued the permit for the project without giving adequate attention to provisions of zoning and environmental laws. Furthermore, the local government failed to live up to its duty to research. For those reasons, the committee believes the project permit must be revoked. Besides, the local government failed to publicize the project permit, thus, preventing the public from being able to be informed about the decision, become familiar with its terms, and be able to obtain information on how to file complaints and by what time.
The ruling, moreover, points out that when considering the project permit, the local authorities should have taken the new environmental laws into account.
Hafsteinn Viktorsson, CEO of PCC, told RÚV he is baffled by the situation the ruling has created for the project. He wonders whether the building of the plant must be stopped if electricity won’t be provided for many months or a year. Construction of the plant is in full swing.
“We’ve always believed Icelandic authorities would keep their part of the investment agreement and solve this issue,” he stated. Three rulings are yet to be issued by the committee regarding this case, and no one knows what they will entail.