Outrage over motorway for German wine country

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Opponents of a giant bridge to be built through Germany's historic wine country, prized for its world-class Rieslings, mourned on Tuesday their defeat in a years-long battle to stop the project.

Pro-Mosel, a group of vintners, businesspeople and residents of southwestern Germany's scenic Mosel Valley, said they were shocked by the outcome of state coalition talks late Monday that gave the green light to the bridge.

"Residents of the area as well as numerous holidaymakers from across Germany expressed disappointment and even dismay over the result of the coalition negotiations, which foresees the continuation of works on the bridge," it said.

The group was particularly incensed by a u-turn by the Green party, which had campaigned during hard-fought elections in Rhineland-Palatinate state in March against the four-lane motorway crossing.

Opponents, including powerful international wine critics, say the project is an eyesore that could destroy the delicate alchemy of the vineyards' steep slate slopes, drip irrigation and sun exposure that create stellar white wines.

The Hochmoseluebergang (Upper Mosel Crossing) has been in the works since 1968 at the height of the Cold War, when the tens of thousands of US troops stationed in the region sought a speedier link between their bases.

The intervening years were marked by revised plans, court challenges and impact studies which the opponents say failed to address their key concerns. Then came a decisive 2008 stimulus package.

At a cost of an estimated 330 million euros ($488 million), the project would be an east-west supplement to Germany's road network, already one of the densest in the world. It is slated for completion in 2016.

The plan's centrepiece would be a 1.7-kilometre-long (one-mile-long), 10-column bridge spanning two low mountains at a height of 158 metres, tall enough for St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to fit beneath with room to spare.

Construction on the project began two years ago but a record 15-percent result in the state election by the Greens led opponents to hope they could stop it.

However the Greens on Monday ceded to their new coalition partners, the Social Democrats, with state party leader Eveline Lemke admitting that approving the bridge project was the "toughest thing to swallow" in the talks.

© 2011 AFP

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