OPAL NO – This won’t go!

On the 11th September 2007, the lives of the residents of the small village of Gross Köris, in the German state of Brandenburg were suddenly and radically changed forever. Unbeknown to most citizens of the village and neighboring communities, powerful political and economic powers had decided that the precarious economic future of this community could be sacrificed in the name of federal energy policy and national security.

The strategy was deliberate. It began quietly. Unbeknown to most unsuspecting residents, a monstrous 2500 page, turgidly written and for the layman virtually opaque, technical development proposal was displayed at the local council offices in Teupitz. Procedure was observed. Objections could be lodged.

It was intended to quietly pass unnoticed by local citizens, who at this time could not even begin to realise the ramifications of this seemingly dry and impenetrable act of bureaucracy. But they were huge!

An astounding, thirty six billion tons of natural Russian gas would be sent along a huge pipeline to be built right through the village through private and public property. Just to the north, in the middle of the surrounding lakes and forests, a massive industrial complex the size of eight football fields, was planned to compress the gas and sent it south to the Czech border. The reason for the destination is still unidentified.

Once in action, this plant would issue unthinkable amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It would produce continuous and environmentally hostile, uninterrupted noise, in all directions, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Perhaps most insidious of all, as a foot in the door, it would open the way for further related industrial development in the region.

This is a region that was trying to rebuild its image as a national recreational and natural park environment. Gross Köris was now under siege. The aggressor had a name,WINGAS.

Never mind that the village was already surrounded by other gas and oil pipelines and that WINGAS and would slice yet another 30 meters wide, deforested scar into the landscape taking with it private businesses, homes, weekenders, gardens, century year old trees and property value.

Never mind the already six-lane adjacent motorway, from Berlin to Dresden, only recently made partly tolerable through expensive noise reduction walls painstakingly won in long debates with federal government. Never mind the existing railway and the heavy goods trains that still roll through this area and never mind, in the not too distant future, the flight paths of the New Berlin Brandenburg International airport.

Never mind the increasing tourism; the bikers, anglers, swimmers, skaters, and horse riders. Never mind the communities of artists and professionals moving into the region to develop their work and bring up their children. Never mind the locals that have seen their region depleted and neglected and the unemployment rise to unacceptable levels.

And never mind the rare plant and animal species, the deer, badgers hares, squirrels or the cranes who mate 700 meters from the planned development site amidst rare orchids but 200 meters from the new asphalt road that would bring 200 trucks a day for the next 2 years, at least.

Germany is in need of need safe and secure forms of energy to ensure its political and economic stability in the 21 century. Gross Köris would just have to accept its fate.
Yet WINGAS and the powers that be failed to take into account that Germany is a functioning democracy. The constitution provides checks and balances that protect citizens’ rights. But could a sleepy struggling ex DDR holiday community possibly find the almost superhuman time, energy and resources necessary to take full advantage of their legal rights? Surely the procedure would be a mere formality.

They were wrong!

Life has changed forever in Gross Köris because Gross Köris through its citizens have said no to WINGAS, no to a project that is ill considered and unnecessary. In the last months dedicated individuals in the community have risen to the challenge, found that energy despite the cost to their daily lives, to protest and to use their democratic rights.

They have joined together to turn the tide and save the region from this certain catastrophe. Local councils have voted against the project, powerful citizens groups have been formed against the pipeline and the gas compression lobby. Politicians have been lobbied and mobilized. News sheets have been set up, web sites developed, information evenings, fund raising projects, contact networks established.

The first successes have been achieved. WINGAS has been sent home to do its homework. Owing to insufficient and inaccurate information in the original proposal, the official regional planning procedure has been stopped.

Strategies are being developed for the next phases of the legal struggle. Leading lawyers have been consulted, the press has been mobilized, international contacts made. A new tourist and recreation development concept is being developed. David has met Goliath.

Optimism has become a real option.

But the battle is far from won. If Gross Köris is to pull this off, it needs the support of all its citizens and their friends and the community at large. This is not a matter of national security. It is a matter of national common sense. Nobody is questioning that gas is important for Germany. WINGAS has other options, Gross Köris doesn’t.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008