Construction begins on new US Embassy

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After years of controversy and delays, construction has finally begun on a new US Embassy in Oslo. The embassy’s prospective neighbours still aren’t happy, but their appeals process has all but run out.

Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang (left) and US Ambassador Barry White broke ground this week on a new US Embassy in Oslo after years of delays. PHOTO: US Embassy

Mayor Fabian Stang and US Ambassador Barry White symbolically broke ground this week on the new embassy site at Huseby, northwest of downtown in a mostly residential area not far from the busy Smestad intersection. The embassy will be moving from a site just across from the Royal Palace in the center of Oslo that for years has been considered to have inadequate security and be a target for terror.

Any new embassy will presumably be a terror target as well, and that’s fueled much of the unhappiness among the Huseby area’s residents. They also have bitterly complained that the embassy will occupy a site that’s long been an undeveloped recreation area.

Newspaper Aften reported recently that they’ve had to concede defeat, though, after losing a series of legal challenges. “We have understood that we can’t stop a 40-mål (roughly 10-acre) recreational area from being blown away,” Margrethe Geelmuyden, who has led the opposition group Aksjon vern Husebyskogen (Protect the Huseby forest), told Aften. “Now we’re most concerned about the security situation.”

Opponents of the project were also irritated that the embassy arranged an informational meeting with local residents last month at allegedly short notice and on April 16, the evening of the day when most Norwegians were preoccupied with the launch of the difficult trial of Norway’s own home-grown terrorist. One of those who attended the meeting accused the embassy staff that they’d “be sitting inside a fortress” at the new site, according to Aften, demanding to know “what about us on the outside?”

White responded that the embassy would also have people on the street, and that security was an equally large concern for the embassy itself. He also promised there would be more meetings between embassy officials and residents, for them to share their concerns.

After a lengthy review process and some budget challenges of their own, US officials preferred the Huseby site over many other options that Norwegian officials had presented over the years. White repeated promises that the embassy will “be good neighbours” and would be able to offer “good service” to its visitors at the new embassy.

The building will feature office space, an underground garage and a residential section for portions of the security force. The embassy complex will also feature several energy-saving elements and be surrounded by a large garden behind a security fence.

Construction is expected to take three years and is being led by a US firm, Walsh Global of Chicago, with Varden Entreprenør of Oslo as the main subcontractor. The building was designed by EYP Architecture and Engineering of Albany, New York, with Spor Arkitekter of Oslo as its Norwegian partner. The embassy claimed the project will offer work for Norwegian subcontractors valued at more than USD 100 million over the next three years.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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