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Polar Routen e.V.
Internationale Vereinigung für
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ATV Road Disput

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The ATV Road Dispute

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Polar-Route - Arctic Circle Trail - Arctic Circle ROAD?

In 1990 Johanne Bech, an experienced tour guide from Sisimiut, marked the first long-distance hiking trail in Greenland between Kangerlussuaq, where Greenland's international airport is located, and Sisimiut, Greenland's second largest city. Within a few years it became the best-known hiking trail in the Arctic. On the hiking maps (hiking map of West Greenland, scale 1: 100,000) it bears the name "Polar Route", after which our association is also named. Soon the name "Arctic Circle Trail", abbreviated "ACT", spread for it. And more recently you can also read the name "Arctic Circle ROAD"", because in 2015 the municipality of Qeqqata decided to build a road between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut. Whether to build a road between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut had been a contentious issue between the municipality and the central government for more than 50 years, which was now to be brought to a conclusion with the construction of an ATV road. Since a real road would be too expensive, the first step was to build a road for "all-terrain vehicles" with the abbreviation "ATV". Soon a link to an article appeared on the website of the municipality of Qeqqata to publicise this decision. And soon a slightly larger PDF file was published advertising this road with the prospect of good profits for some. To illustrate the expected economic benefits of this road, the following photo was shown on page 15 of this text:
NO COMMENT The comment of a guest at the campsite: "The Hell's Angels are invading Greenland." A slightly more polite explanation comes from the text commenting the picture, where the more precise term "ATV road" is now replaced by the euphemism "nature road":
"The rental of motorised vehicles and bicycles as well as guided tours along the nature road generate profits for tourism enterprises ... Of particular interest is the fact that hunters can make extensive use of ATVs for winter hunting in January and February. ... But ATVs can also be used for trophy hunting."
"Igloo Mountain ApS", a tourism company, has expressed the expectation on its website (source: href=http://www.ski.gl/IglooMountainApS.aspx - now deleted) that it will be able to start with 8,000 to 10,000 rides per year renting ATVs on this ATV road. But of course that would be far too much of an environmental burden on the region.
A third of the hiking trail ("Polar Route" / "Arctic Circle Trail") is to give way to the road, to be relocated to another trail south of it. A German guidebook, however, had previously, when there was no talk of this ATV road, urgently warned hikers not to use this "southern route", saying that this trail was very difficult, and in some cases even life-threatening. Moreover, a road parallel to the hiking trail will devalue it. Based on this, 300 hikers on the Arctic Circle Trail approached the municipality in a petition called "Memorandum" and demanded to refrain from building an ATV road and instead re-establishing a boat connection as it had once existed. Unfortunately, the municipal administration never answered the petition (the memorandum) and did not even present it to the municipal parliament. In doing so, the local government violated the right to petition, an important fundamental right.
The planned ATV road is to cross the World Heritage Site "Aasivissuit - Nipisat, Inuit Hunting Ground between Ice and Sea". In a similar case (the "Waldschlößchenbrücke", a bridge built through the Elbe valley near Dresden), UNESCO had already decided to remove an object from the World Heritage List. When the inscription procedure for "Aasivissuit - Nipisat" was underway, corresponding concerns were also raised with UNESCO, namely that the construction of the ATV road would violate the integrity of the World Heritage project and that practically the most important hiking trail in the Arctic would be sacrificed for the planned ATV road. When the WHC of UNESCO asked the Danish delegation, i.e. the applicant, about this, the delegation rejected it and replied: "There are absolutely no plans to upgrade the Arctic Circle Trail to any kind of ATV or dirt road." According to UNESCO's statutes, our association does not have the status of a corresponding partner in this procedure, but only the Danish delegation as a state party. So we could not object to this. This changed after the site was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and we were able to appeal to UNESCO / WHC about the endangerment of the World Heritage Site due to the planned construction of the ATV road, and request to be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. But on 5 June 2019, the WHC representative informed us that she had forwarded our application to the Danish authorities for further processing. We have not received any response from them until now, except that an attempt was made to create a fait accompli and the construction of the ATV road started: In July 2020, the municipality of Qeqqata received permission of the government in Nuuk to start the construction of the ATV road. The permit initially contained a restriction: The road could only be built as far as the Kangerluarsuk-Tulleq fjord in consideration of the drinking water supply of Sisimiut. In the meantime, however, permission has been granted to continue construction as far as Sisimiut.
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