German Green Party insists environmental impact was not assessed
March 24, 2008
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The German Green Party is seeking action by the European Commission over what it claims is an illegal and environmentally damaging U.S. Army base expansion here.
German Greens and European Parliament member Hiltrud Breyer claimed in a recent parliamentary question that German authorities failed to carry out proper land development procedures, an environmental impact assessment or public consultation before construction of new off-post U.S. military housing near Grafenwöhr.
Hundreds of U.S. military families are already living in the Netzaberg housing area, and more are expected this summer with the movement of a brigade of soldiers and families to Grafenwöhr from Schweinfurt.
“Building activities, including the construction of 850 houses in contravention of prevailing laws, have been carried out there,” she said. “The justification given was that the building work constituted a military construction project and, as such, was subject to neither EU (European Union) nor German law.”
However, it was known from the outset that the land where the houses were built was withdrawn from the military training ground and the houses were privately financed (and therefore subject to German law), Breyer said.
“The German authorities have obviously watched these violations of European law without action because of falsely interpreted alliance loyalty,” she said in a press statement. “It is scandalous that not only the procedures such as environmental compatibility testing [but also] public involvement have been violated.”
Contacting the Army to talk about the concerns is pointless, said Rainer Knoll, an environmental activist whose group, ZUB, campaigns against environmental damage caused by Grafenwöhr Training Area.
“German citizens never receive any response,” he said.
U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwöhr spokeswoman Susanne Bartsch said in an e-mail that the Green Party complaints are directed at German and European regulators rather than at the U.S. Army.
Breyer said testing showed “enormous” levels of lead in the soil at Netzaberg but the Army used that soil as filling for a new road linking the new town with Grafenwöhr’s Main Post. The Greens object to taking the contaminated soil into the training area, which is classed as a protected nature zone under European law, she said.
“Highly poisonous lead-containing material has been recycled and reused in building material within that particular protected area,” she said. “By this action, the environment, as well as the public, has been exposed to massive health hazards. Lead-containing excavated material, as has been used in the street through the (training) area, has to be disposed of as dangerous waste, in accordance with EU-trash-regulations. It must not be recycled and reused.”
According to Breyer, the Greens also object to clearing forest for expansion of the base and use of demolition waste in an on-post “washing plant.”
She asked the European Commission (the EU’s executive branch) if it regarded the Army’s actions as a contravention of European law.
“Does the commission … take the view that it is up to the originators to remove the polluted material from the (training area) at their own expense?” she asked in parliament. “What steps will the commission take to ensure that [the training area] is protected in the context of the present and any future construction projects?”
Knoll said authorities disregarded the legally required public information and consultation process before Netzaberg was built. That process normally allows citizens to challenge new construction in court, he added.
The environmentalists also are concerned about noise from the training area, especially at night, he said.
The Army and German authorities should tell people about the lead problem at Netzaberg as well as radioactivity in drinking water there, he said.
“We think this drinking water is dangerous for kids and maybe pregnant (women) because of the level of radium,” he said. “There is radon as well — so sufficient ventilation of the houses is necessary.”