TAKING UP TORCHES FOR TOURISM: Locals upset about proposed environmental access restrictions planning fiery greeting for officials hosting Q&A on Tuesday


Folks fired up about proposed changes to Svalbard’s environmental regulations are planning to greet visiting agency officials with a torchlight protest that will end outside a public Q&A meeting about the changes scheduled Tuesday evening at Kulturhuset.

The proposed changes include tighter control on wilderness access, new mandates for qualifying as a guide and altering the national Package Travel Act so travellers have the full rights as those on the mainland. Tourism and business leaders are calling the measures “invasive,” poorly thought out and unlikely to achieve the goal of minimizing environmental impacts.

The torchlight protest is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. outside Visit Svalbard and reach Kulturhuset by 5:30 p.m., with the meeting with environmental officials scheduled at 6 p.m.

“If it is windy we’ll have to skip the torches – so please bring a headlamp as a substitution,” Visit Svalbard Director Ronny Brunvoll wrote in a bulletin about the protest. “Please also bear in mind that torches have flames – and flames can easily damage clothes – so pick your outfit with caution. If arriving by car, please do not park in front of neither the tourist informasjon nor Kulturhuset. We need the space for people.”

The meeting “gives affected and interested parties the opportunity to provide input and ask questions,” according to a notice by the Norwegian Environmental Agency. “At the meeting, some of the main proposals in the consultation will be presented, and there will be an opportunity to present views and ask questions.”

For those unable to attend the meeting in person due to COVID-19 space restrictions or other reasons it will be streamed online (link will be posted at the NEA notice above), but questions cannot be submitted.

The meeting is among the early public input opportunities. Comments are being accepted until Feb. 1.