FRYDLANT, Czech Republic – It's much ado about a greenhouse.
A huge and well-lighted greenhouse opened last year on the Polish side of the border with the Czech Republic. The light helps tomatoes grow, and makes Czech neighbors growl.
The dispute has engaged diplomats and the governments. The European Parliament might be the next stage for the spat.
The critics say light pollution from the greenhouse risks the future of a rare dark-sky reserve declared in the area, harms the environment and denies people a proper sleep. On the other hand, it creates much-needed jobs.
Members of the Czech Astronomical Society were the first to complain after their measurements confirmed what anyone can see, especially on cloudy nights, that this new installation produces intense light.
"This greenhouse is something completely new for us," astronomer Martin Gembec said on a recent night. He was on a hill about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the greenhouse, which is on the edge of the Polish town of Bogatynia, next to a coal-fired power plant and a big open-pit brown coal mine.
"We have never seen anything like that and we are honestly shocked by it. It shines like a big city of a 100,000 people," Gembec said.
The regional government has asked the Polish ambassador to Prague and the Czech ambassador to Warsaw for help, while the issue was high on the agenda of last week's meeting of the environment ministers of the two countries in the Polish capital.
"We will try to find a solution," said Jacek Krzeminski, spokesman for Poland's Environment Ministry.
Martin Puta, the head of the regional government, has tried to reach the owner of the Citronex company that operates the greenhouse, but with no luck so far. The company has not responded to telephone and email requests by The Associated Press for comment. It says on its Web site the project is meant to help develop the region.
Puta said he was approaching members of the European Parliament in efforts to set up a public hearing there. In what some already seem as an overregulated EU, there's no regulation to deal with light pollution.
In Frydlant, a Czech town across the border, Mayor Dan Ramzer said he could understand that companies like Citronex create jobs "and that's a mantra for the Poles." But Ramzer wants the Czech complaints to be heard "because there is a night-sky reserve in the Jizerske Mountains and we don't to lose this unique thing."
"And another thing is that you have something on the horizon of Frydlant which disturbs the sleeping of the local people. Darkness is one of things we value highly here," Ramzer said.
He expressed hopes that Czech concerns would not go unnoticed as the greenhouse is planned to be expanded.
"We hope that they won't repeat the same mistake and will block the light from leaking."
The astronomers agree.
"We don't want to ruin anyone's business," Gembec said. "The situation is bad in the entire Europe, but they went too far. The best solution would be for this private company to accept (our concerns) and make steps to fix it. That is in this case to put blankets on it."
Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland contributed.