State shifts gears on snowmobiles

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Norway’s conservative government surprised the opposition in Parliament and many others Thursday evening, when Environment Minister Tine Sundtoft announced it was halting its controversial project to allow local governments all over the country to introduce use of snowmobiles on a trial basis. Instead, the government now plans to just introduce a proposal to change the law on snowmobile use by the end of the year.

For now, Vardø remains a classic example of a remote Norwegian settlement struggling to retain its purpose and population. Homes abandoned by residents who moved on pose a dilemma for city officials who can't afford to take them over, and keep hoping their owners will return. Snowmobiles, meanwhile, wait for the next long winter. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Snowmobiles, shown parked for the summer here in Vardø, are currently only allowed in some areas of Norway, like Finnmark, where they can be used in connection with reindeer herding. They may soon be allowed for recreational use, even though the government suddenly halted its pilot project to let local governments decide on usage Thursday evening. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Sundtoft still maintained that the government’s plan to allow pilot snowmobile projects by any municipality was not illegal, as a civil ombudsman had ruled last week.  “But at the same time, I hear what the political majority is saying,” Sundtoft during parliamentary debate Thursday evening, referring to all the opposition to such widespread snowmobile use even on just a trial basis. “Therefore I have the following message: The government will halt its pilot project. At the same time we’re starting work on changes to the law (against snowmobile use) itself.”

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the Liberal Party had put forth its own proposal that the government’s pilot project be halted. A majority in Parliament failed to go along. But then the government backed down itself.

“It became quite a different debate,” Ola Elvestuen of the Liberal Party told NRK. “And even though I didn’t get majority support for our proposal, I’m of course glad that the pilot project is being stopped.”

“Now we’ll get a real debate, on what kind of framework we shall have around use of motorized vehicles in open areas,” Elvestuen. Representatives of the other environmentally oriented parties in parliament, the Socialist Left (SV) and the Greens (Miljøpartiet De Gronne) were also pleased and relieved by Sundtoft’s announcement.

Her new approach suggests, however, that a new law may be pushed through in what NRK called “express speed.” Introduction of a proposed law change is now expected in July, with a hearing period reduced from the standard three months to 10 weeks, and a vote on the issue before Christmas. A revised law could take effect from January 1.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

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