THESSALONIKI – The Egnatia Highway is not only – at 680 kilometers (422 miles) – the longest enclosed highway in Southeastern Europe, but is also set to be the greenest. Representatives of the company that is constructing the last leg of the road connecting Igoumenitsa with Kipi in the Evros prefecture had barely recovered from a dispute with environmental organizations over the protection of bears in the Pindus range, when they found themselves facing another important ecological issue. Alongside the Egnatia Highway are 17 areas included in the European Natura 2000 network, 70 former wildlife refuges and four wetland sites protected by the Ramsar Convention. The road cuts though a protected area in the Netsos river ecosystem, which has triggered protests (from the Technical Chamber of Macedonia and local ecological organizations) pointing out that the consequences for the river’s ecosystem will be disastrous. The dispute between the company and ecologists over the protection of the brown bear went to the Council of State, and eventually a solution was found. Changes to the project cost more than 235 million euros, and the company now supports a bear observation program. The new headache concerns the bridge over the Nestos on the 17-kilometer stretch between Chrysoupolis and Vaniano. Opposition is centered on the construction method and the bridge itself (on the plans it is located about 3 kilometers from the bridge on the national road), as it is thought to be so low it will affect the flora and fauna of the area. The Nestos Delta area is an ecosystem of special importance, because of its biodiversity and the rarity of some of the species found there, which is why it is protected by Ramsar and included in the Natura Network. According to research conducted by the Forestry and Natural Environment Department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (by P. Smyris and M. Aslanidou), 290 species of birds (68 percent of the species found in Greece), 15 species of mammals and 28 snake species have their home in the Nestos Delta and the unique forest on its banks. On this occasion, the Egnatia Odos consortium did not clash with ecological groups but adopted a different strategy. It proposed a solution, in the form of a bridge 980 meters long, rising 6.5 to 12.5 meters above the riverbed and not supported by columns but built along the same lines as the bridges in Kastania and Metsovo. However, as in the case of the bears, the delays meant the project was not included in the Third Community Support Framework and is one of three sections of the Egnatia Highway that are orphaned (without secure funding). It is thought unlikely that it will be ready by 2006, when this part of the road is due for completion. The company’s president, G. Economidis, told Kathimerini he was optimistic that procedures for the 120 million euros needed for this section would start in September.