Árneshreppur (population 53), located on the northern coast of the Westfjörds, is normally not a magnet for any kind of attention at all. However, this year the region has become the focus of potential election irregularities that have drawn the attention of national authorities, and appear to revolve around the building of a controversial power plant.
Some background: Árneshreppur is one of several regions in the northwest of Iceland where every resident is a candidate for a regional council. So instead of people voting for parties, they vote for individual residents and their individual platforms. This election season, one of the hottest topics in Árneshreppur is the proposed building of a power plant on Hvalá river.
“Moving” to Árneshreppur
Things were proceeding normally until something caught the attention of the National Registry: the population of Árneshreppur increased by 40% between April 24 and May 4. Before this period, there were 44 legally registered households in the region, but 18 individuals reportedly moved their legal residence to Árneshreppur during this 10-day period alone.
Kristinn H. Gunnarsson, a former MP and a Westfjords native, published a list of names on his blog that actually shows that 18 people moved their legal residence to Árneshreppur. He later called the “squatters”, and points out that of special interest is that 11 of these people have “moved” to Drangar alone. However, some of these new arrivals actually do have connections to the area – as Kristinn points out, Hrafn Jökulsson and Sif Konráðsdóttir, both of whom do have familial connections to the area, have moved their legal residence to the region, along with their respective children. But this certainly isn’t the case for everyone who “moved” to Árneshreppur within this 10-day window, and it has raised considerable suspicion.
Not that Kristinn is just a concerned citizen. His advocacy for the power plant is a matter of public record. In 2009, while serving as an MP, he directed a formal question to then Minister of Industry Össur Skarphéðinsson, amongst other things asking when the Minister intended to issue an exploration permit for the plant. In parliamentary discussions on this question, Össur said that he would not be issuing a permit because he did not consider it necessary. Kristinn was pleased, saying at the time, “I consider it cause for celebration that after the Ministry examined this case that there will be no further delays on research for the possible power plant at Hvalá.”
Furthermore, the list of names that Kristinn has leaked is not available on any publicly accessible website. His source, a mystery for a number of days, turned out to be a member of Árneshreppur regional council.
Vísir reported that where the other names on the list are concerned, the law offices of Sókn put together a memo stating that they believe there is an attempt at influencing the elections being made here. MBL reports that amongst Sókn’s clients is Vesturverk, an energy company in Ísafjörður that is doing the work of preparations for the Hvalá power plant. Amongst the work Sókn does for Vesturverk directly pertains to the power plant, e.g. with regards to planning.
Police questioned the people who newly changed their legal residence to Árneshreppur in order to assess the veracity of their claims. And then, with barely a week until elections, the National Registry decided to void all 18 of the new arrivals.
All that said, this matter is likely far from over. The Hvalá plant, as we have seen, has been years in the making. The fight will likely continue, long after the municipal elections are over.