After a dragged-out dispute fuelled by intense campaigning, local residents and Aral Slovakia finally reached a compromise over the construction of a new gas station in Bratislava's Patrónka district, now set to start on June 15.
"We actually lost by this compromise," said Kamil Procházka, President of the Horský Park Foundation that led the citizens' protest. "I understand Aral's perspective when I consider the business's objectives. But where the environment is concerned, it is not very positive."
What may seem as a loss to the environmentalists was a victory for the gas station chain. Although Aral officials refused to comment on the matter, Bratislava's City Hall said it did not view the project as environmentally harmful. "There have been several studies done on [the station's impact on] this area, and no one said that it would be totally wrong to build it in this neighborhood," said Milan Vajda, spokesman for Bratislava's Mayor.
Plans for the Brnianska street gas station had been announced in the spring of 1997, but were abruptly arrested. Aral fought for a prime spot on the main westward highway from the Slovak capital. However, this site is neighbor to Bratislava's only downtown recreation area which has been recognized as a natural preserve.
Replacing the current bus stop, the new Aral station will include a shop, two car vacuuming machines, telephones and fax machines. Originally, the plans had included a car wash, which was eventually struck from the project.
But Procházka claimed that the car wash was not the main environmental threat. "The car wash was not the problem," he said. "People will continue to wash their cars in their gardens. But what really matters are the trees and the fact that the cars will have to slow down when coming to the gas station, and start up again when leaving."
To diminish any negative impact, Aral has promised to build an anti-noise barrier.
"The anti-noise wall will not do its job," Procházka said, "[because] Shell is thinking about building another gas station right across from this one, and if that happens, the noise will just rebound from the anti-noise wall." Shell is still considering the possibility to build its gas station here, but the final decision has not been made yet.
The company has also promised to plant trees and bushes to replace the ones that will have to be sacrificed. The planned greenery will cost Aral 1.2 million Sk.
If nothing else, the three involved parties have learned a useful lesson. "What this has taught us is, that if citizens decide to stand up for something, they can have their way," Vajda said.