Police assistance requested to stop collection of illegal parking fees at Hraunfossar waterfalls
Police in West Iceland has been called out to help stop the collection of illegal parking fees at Hraunfossar waterfalls, one of Iceland's most beautiful waterfalls. The Icelandic Environment Agency confirmed to Iceland Magazine that the agency had requested assistance from the police to stop the collection of the fees.
Illegal parking fees
"This is a clear and a brazen violation of the law, as far as we see it," Jón Björnsson, the director of Snæfellsnes National Park, who is in charge of all protected natural monuments in West Iceland, told Iceland Magazine.
Visitors to Hraunfossar waterfalls in West Iceland this morning have been forced to pay 1,500 ISK (14 USD/12 EUR) for parking regular passenger cars, while tour buses have been charged 6,000 ISK (57 USD/49 EUR). The parking fees, which are levied by one group of landowners at the site, have already been ruled in clear violation of law. Other landowners at Hraunfossar, as well as the operator of a restaurant at the site, have come out in opposition to the fees.
The fees charged at Hraunfossar are more than twice those charged at Seljalandsfoss waterfall. The fees at Seljalandsfoss and a handful of other natural sites are legal.
A baffling and brazen violation of the law
Jón Björnsson, and people with knowledge of the law on natural monuments and its enforcement who spoke to Iceland Magazine, agree that the decision by the landowners to impose the fees is a baffling and brazen violation of the law. Not least because this is the second time landowners at the site impose such fees on visitors.
The levying of parking fees at protected natural monuments requires permission by the Icelandic Environment Agency. The agency has rejected requests by a group of landowners at the site to approve parking fees, which the landowners claim are necessary to pay for maintenance at the site.
Landowners claim they are within their rights
According to the sources of Iceland Magazine and the local news site Vísir the landowners have rejected the arguments and finding of the Environment Agency. A lawyer for the landowners has sent a thorough documentation to the agency outlining what the landowners claim is the legal basis for the fees. The Environment Agency is reviewing the documents.
Early summer the landowners promised to "postpone" the parking fees while they were reviewing the case.
Questionable justifications offered by landowners
The arguments offered by the landowners for the parking fees have been called into question, as they had previously declined public grants to pay for maintenance. The parking lot is also maintained by the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, not the landowners. According to the sources of the local news site Skessuhorn the landowners have not spent a dime on improvements at the site.
Early summer, after the landowners imposed the parking fees without the necessary permits from the Environment Agency the agency threatened steep fines unless the fees were abolished. Other landowners at the site, including a local man who operates a small restaurant at the site had come out in strong opposition to the fees.
Police asked to help stop the collection of the fees
Jón Björnsson told Iceland Magazine that the Environment Agency has been busy all morning dealing with the situation. He said the situation made little sense, and had caught the agency by surprise, as the fees had already been ruled illegal.
"Our people have spent the last hours at meetings in Reykjavík, while another team has been sent to the scene to determine what's really going on. We have asked for the help of the Police to bring a stop to this business."
A group of investors recently bought the farm Hraunsás II, which lies along the waterfalls. A large section (90%) of the parking lot is within the property line of Hraunsás II. The rest of the parking lot is on the property of other landowners at the site, and rented to business operators, including Snorri Jóhannesson, who runs a small restaurant at the site. Snorri told Skessuhorn that he found it outrageous that someone was attempting to charge people for driving on a public roadway to access his business.
Snorri told Skessuhorn that he had immediately called the police when he realized that someone was stopping visitors to collect the illegal fees.
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