The National Planning Agency (Skipulagsstofnun) has issued a statement concerning the assessment of the environmental impact of the planned Westfjord road on Dynjandisheiði.
The planned implementation involves rebuilding parts of the Westfjord road and parts of Bíldudalsvegur, either in existing or new roads. The existing roads are a total of 70 km long and paved gravel. They are to be shortened to 63-68 km, open all year-round and a new more snow-friendly road will be paved.
In the Road Administration’s assessment report, construction is divided into three phases with thirteen environmental impact assessment options:
Phase I, on Vestfjarðarvegur from Hörgsnes in Vatnsfjordur to Tröllaháls on Dynjandisheiði.
Phase II, on Vestfjarðavegur from Tröllaháls through Dynjandisheiði and to the Mjólkárvirkjun power station in Borgarfjörður.
Phase III, on Bíldudalsvegur from Bíldudals airport to Vestfjarðavegur.
The Planning Agency believes that a year-round open road through Dynjandisheiði will include significant transport benefits for a large number of people in a large area. Construction projects, especially in phases II and III, also promise improved winter transport between Ísafjörður and the southern Westfjords.
However, the planned road section within the Vatnsfjörður Nature Reserve, the protected area of Dynjanda, has not been recommended by the Planning Agency.
The Road Administration has already submitted a discussion and comparison of roads that follow the existing roads and across the fjord, though it should be noted that the section of the Westfjord road in question is already paved and is not a main road in winter. The positive effects of laying a new road in Phase I are therefore primarily an easier way up Dynjandisheiði.
One of the objectives of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act is to reduce the negative environmental impact of the project as much as possible. After comparing options in Phase I, the Planning Agency believes that the A1 road in Vatnsfjörður, which follows the current road line, is the best option of the proposed road lines in terms of environmental impact and really the only option that should be considered.
According to the Planning Agency though, this option has not been implemented in the manner that should be required, to minimize the impact of the project on the Vatnsfjörður conservation area as far as possible.
Adding to that, he construction could also cause considerable disturbance on the natural coastline of three inlets in the southern part of Arnarfjörður, which will have an impact on the tide biosphere, where habitats with high conservation values and important food-source-areas for birds can be found.
The Planning Agency considers it possible and necessary to further elaborate this option with key stakeholders before choosing final options. In the end it’s in the hands of the relevant municipalities (Vesturbyggð and Ísafjarðarbær), the Environment Agency as a licensor for projects within protected areas, and the Road Administration to take a stand on the proposed options and work on their further implementation as well as possible mitigation measures and monitoring.
Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.
You can also check out our shop, loaded with books, apparel and other cool merch, that you can buy and have delivered right to your door.
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!