Press article fom 20.10.2005
Way Open for Sensible Balance Between Economic and Ecological Goals
Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, October 20, 2005. The German nature conservation association NABU and the Flughafen Frankfurt-Hahn GmbH (FFHG), with the help of the Rhineland-Palatinate Economic and Environment Ministry, settled their dispute over the extension of the runway at Frankfurt-Hahn Airport out of court. The settlement calls for NABU to abandon its lawsuit. In return, FFHG will implement additional contingency measures. "This compromise will reduce the intrusion into the habitat of the barbastelle bat and provide long-term assurance of the species' continued survival," commented Siegfried Schuch, Chairman of the Rhineland-Palatinate NABU on the agreement. FFHG has thus shown that it is willing to consider the concerns of nature conservation. "Airport expansion and nature conservation must not necessarily be contradictory. An intact environment is also close to our hearts. That is why we are glad that we found a way to agree," says Jörg Schumacher, FFHG Management Spokesman.
The Rhineland-Palatinate NABU had filed suit against the official approval of the runway extension. In doing so, the association censured what it considered to be the flawed judgment of the intrusion into the habitats of species that are protected throughout Europe and the inadequate compensatory and contingency measures. Apart from the wildcat and other bat species, the only known occurrence of barbastelle bat in southwestern Germany is affected. The barbastelle bat lives primarily under the split bark of partly dead trees. This covering of bark falls off the dead tree limbs after a relatively short time, thus putting an end to the bat's living quarters. Therefore, conserving roost trees gives the bat's natural habitat only a brief reprieve. If there are no more trees growing in the proper age group because they have been felled for exploitation by foresters, the end of the barbastelle bat is inevitable.
This is where the settlement between NABU and FFHG calls for improvements by removing roughly twenty hectares of forest from the area allowed to be exploited by forestry. In these natural forest plots, trees will constantly be growing to the age at which they can die a natural death, which continuously gives rise to new roosting places for barbastelle bats and guarantees the survival of the species in the long term. "This will help the barbastelle bat better and for a longer time than would simply maintain its current roosting trees," goes the NABU argumentation. In addition, open strips will be cut in the forest to provide bats with hunting grounds.
FFHG emphasizes its efforts at keeping the intrusion as environmentally compatible as possible. The official approval of the plan already called for extensive compensatory and substitute areas, says Schumacher. Moreover, the company is also paying for complementary investigations of bats and wildcats. Optimizing these measures by using the additional plots of natural forest is in its own interest.
The NABU maintains that it did not file this suit to principally prevent the expansion of the airport. "Even though we are concerned about the increase in air traffic for environmental reasons, we cannot counter this development in society with a legal dispute. Taking legal action as an association is not only an inadequate, but also an inadmissible means," says NABU Chairman Schuch. Nature conservation associations are not blockers of business development, since these advocates of nature only file a small number of group-action suits in cases of grave damage. In the eleven years that group action has been permitted in Rhineland-Palatinate, only seven such suits were filed – despite participation in more than 9,000 cases. This shows that the associations use this instrument responsibly. In the case of the airport expansion, the only goal pursued by the NABU from the very outset was to protect endangered species. It sees this settlement as a compatible regulation of the intrusion, thus eliminating the grounds for the lawsuit.
Economics Minister Hans-Artur Bauckhage welcomed the compromise as a successful balance between economics and ecology. The settlement and the discontinuation of the action by the NABU should help make legal decisions a bit more predictable. The minister left no doubt that the extension of the runway is indispensable for the further growth of Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, especially in the very successful cargo segment. The agreement between the airport and the NABU shows, he said, that economic exigencies and ecological goals can indeed reasonably work together. "This kind of cooperation must become an even stronger principle of our business and environmental policies," emphasized the minister.
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