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US Warns of Environmental Harm from Ukraine Canal Project - 2004-08-24

The United States renewed its concern Monday about a controversial Ukrainian canal project in the Danube delta. Environmentalists say the canal will cause irreparable harm to important bird breeding areas.

The United States is joining the European Union and major environmental groups in expressing concern about the project by Ukraine, which is digging a three-kilometer long, deep water channel through an internationally-protected part of the Danube delta.

The dredging project began in May despite international protests including an earlier critical statement by the United States. Opponents of the canal say it will destroy the nesting areas of thousands of endangered birds, in an area described as the most important breeding ground for birds in all of Europe.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said construction on the canal has continued "unabated" despite the U.S. appeal in May that Ukraine conduct an impact assessment of the project and consider an alternate route that would minimize the destructive impact on the environment.

He said the European Union and the governments of Germany and Ukraine's neighbor Romania as well as key advocacy groups including the World Wildlife Fund and the World Conservation Union all have registered complaints, but that the Kiev government has been unresponsive.

"We remain deeply concerned about the environmental impact of this construction project, and by the lack of action by the government of Ukraine to be responsive to its treaty obligations, and to the positions stated by other countries and the international organizations," he said. "And we urge it, continue to urge it, to insure that this very important wetland area and ecologically-sensitive resource be fully protected and preserved."

Ukraine has said the canal is merely the reopening of a project begun during the Soviet era and would provide better access to the Black Sea for an economically poor region of the country.

Kiev officials say there are three deep waterways in the Danube delta, but none in Ukraine and that the country has a right to develop its part of the area.

The affected section of the delta is nominally protected under the 1971 Ramsar international convention on wetlands, a bilateral Ukraine-Romania agreement, and by its designation as a UNESCO "Man and the Biosphere" site.

Nature groups say it is home to 280 bird species including critical populations of pelicans and cormorants, and that the Ukraine project risks bringing oil pollution to the area.