A parking fee instituted at Hraunfossar falls, West Iceland last Friday has caused tension between landowners, businesses, and local authorities, RÚV reports.
The fee was instituted over the weekend but stopped by police on Monday at the request of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (IRCA). The tenant’s lawyer claims the IRCA does not have the authority to overthrow the parking fee, though it is responsible for overseeing the area.
Hraunfossar falls and the area surrounding them are protected. Spring water flows from under the lava by the waterfall and into Hvítá river. Barnafoss waterfall, just above Hraunfossar, is no less impressive than its neighbour.
“People are coming from halfway around the globe just to see these falls and get to take a picture of them and a picture of themselves at the falls,” states Þórhildur María Kristinsdóttir, Regional Commissioner for the Environment Agency of West Iceland.
The recent controversy was sparked by a private company which rents the land under 90 percent of the parking lot. The company wants to institute a parking fee in the lot, while the on-site restaurant disagrees, and public authorities object.
Kristrún Snorradóttir is one of the four owners of the restaurant located beside the falls and states “we are opposed to the parking fee which has been charged here, since we have always thought and still believe that this is in public ownership, this parking lot. And also that 10 percent of it belongs to the land we rent and not [the company who wants to charge a fee].”
The road to the parking lot runs alongside the restaurant and is registered as a public road. The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, which oversees the road, objected to the charges, asking the police to intervene in the matter, which they did on Monday.
“The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration has declared that this road, sub road, is under their jurisdiction and the area around it. In addition, it was creating a dangerous situation on and close to Ring Road One. Something which we should and need to always respond to and the conclusion was as a matter of fact to stop this parking charge,” stated Úlfar Lúðvíksson, Chief of West Iceland Police.
Hraunfossar falls are located in an area called Gilsbakki. There are four viewing areas and walkways, and two parking lots. The land they are located on belongs to investors who rent it to the private company H-fossar.
Eva B. Helgadóttir, H-fossar’s lawyer, states “This issue is of course about who owns the land and who controls ownership. Is it the party which owns the land or a public institution? And on what grounds does the public institution exercise authority over private property by which I mean that although there is a certain responsibility that comes with ownership, that doesn’t mean that a certain government agency can exercise authority over it.”
Opposition to the fee has come from private citizens as well. Over the weekend a local man joined the employee who was charging the parking fee, telling visitors the charge was considered illegal. Many heeded his advice and parked without paying. The individual preferred to remain anonymous, telling reporters they could refer to him as “The Good Samaritan”.