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Report: environment groups lobby against U.S. ice highway across Antarctica
The Associated Press (apwire)     Print Article 
Published 2006-06-03 11:25 (KST)   

An international coalition of environmental groups next week will lobby Antarctic Treaty nations to ask the United States to reconsider its 1,632-kilometer (1,020-mile) ''ice highway'' to the South Pole, constructed to bolster scientific study.

New Zealand Antarctic scientists said they will be among the group calling for a fresh environmental impact study of the ice road across the Antarctic wilderness, the ''Dominion Post'' newspaper reported Saturday.

The highway runs from the Antarctic coast directly south of New Zealand, to the South Pole.

It will enable hundreds of tons of supplies and equipment to be hauled across the world's most inhospitable wilderness on tractor-pulled sleds to the polar Amundsen-Scott Base.

Where once therewasonly ice wilderness, now there is a packed surface six meters (20 feet) wide lined with green flags winding through huge crevasse fields, snow ''swamps'' of soft mushy snow and flat pack ice.

U.S. Antarctic Program plans said road trains of up to six tractor-trailer units 300 meters (1,000 feet) long could be on the road through much of the 180-day Antarctic summer.

A report from the environment coalition warns of pollution from the road trains and a possible increase in demand for tourism as a result of ice highway access.

One of two New Zealanders involved, Barry Weeber, said there were concerns the road and scientific work at the South Pole was coming at too high a price on the frozen continent's internationally protected wilderness environment.

Others have said the area is becoming less and less of a natural environment.

''Once you start putting a road through somewhere it's not a wilderness any more,'' New Zealand's Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society spokesmanDebs Martin told the ''Dominion Post'' in the capital, Wellington.

The U.S. National Science Foundation paid for the $US20 million (euro15 million) project.

Trevor Hughes, head of New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Antarctic policy unit, said the United States had met all its requirements under the Antarctic Treaty when it planned and carved the route.

The first man to drive a vehicle to the South Pole, Mount Everest conqueror Sir Edmund Hillary, in 2004 called the polar highway project ''terrible.'' Hillary said the ice road would degrade the pristine environment, which is protected from commercial development, including oil exploration, by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty.

New Zealand's foreign minister at the time, Phil Goff, said New Zealand's position was consistent with all 30 Antarctic Treaty signatories who agreed the highway was an ecologically sound project.

The environmental coalition is to lobby consultative nations to the Antarctic Treaty when theymeetnext weekend in Scotland, Martin told the paper.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter The Associated Press

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