Royals open new national parks

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Crown Crown Prince Haakon and King Carl Gustaf of Sweden jointly opened two new neighboring national parks off the coasts of both countries this week. Outer Hvaler National Park and the Koster Seas National Park cover a wide area of islands and skerries and much of them are underwater, but not everyone is happy with their creation.

Norway's Crown Prince Haakon (center, in dark jacket) and Sweden's King Carl Gustaf (second from left, with brown tie) met near Norway's southern border with Sweden to jointly open new offshore national parks for each country. At right in the green sweater is Norway's government minister for the environment, Erik Solheim. PHOTO: Hvaler Kommune

The royals braved strong winds but could enjoy sunny skies as they sailed out to the sites of the offshore parks located between the Norwegian town of Fredrikstad and the Swedish town of Strømstad.

Crown Prince Haakon, educated at Norway’s naval academy, even took the wheel of the tall ship Christian Radich as he and King Carl Gustaf set course for the Koster and Hvaler archipelago.

The parks were set up to preserve the islands, many of which are uninhabited, and the area’s unique natural attributes. Outer Hvaler is known for its coral reefs and special marine plants, and conservationists have applauded state efforts to prevent development or underwater disturbance.All told, the Hvaler park in Norwegian waters covers more than 300 square kilometers including undeveloped land on several islands.

That’s upset some local landowners, who claim the state has confiscated their land without negotiating any compensation as yet. Local Hvaler resident Hans Seilø told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv this week that around 1,000 mål (roughly, 250 acres) of his land has been incorporated into the park, “but I have no idea what I’m going to get in terms of compensation.”

Seilø, whose land lies on the island of Vesterøy, isn’t alone. While Swedish authorities have paid several million kronor to local landowners affected by creation of the Koster National Park, the Norwegian authorities reportedly haven’t made an offer to their landowners, at least not yet.

“Everything has happened over the heads of the landowners here at Hvaler,” Seilø told Dagens Næringsliv , claiming the process is like “the pure Soviet state” in action.

Officials for Østfold County say the landowners will receive compensation, claiming the state hasn’t “taken over” their land. Rather, said one official, the establishment of the national park merely puts some restrictions on the use of the land.

If the landowners and state don’t agree on compensation for any lost value or use of the land, it will be up to the courts to settle on a price.