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France Nantes Airport

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Ballot on fate of Nantes airport underway

French anti-riot police stand guard at the entrance of the law court during an audience of expropriation, as opponents to a project of building an international airport near Notre-Dame-des-Landes demonstrate outside the High Court of Nantes last September AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER

The people of the Loire-Atlantique department in the north-west of France vote today on whether the construction of a new airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes near Nantes should go ahead or not.

Only 967.500 people are entitled to vote on what is effectively the future of the airport.

Already this week, the European Commission joined a large number of NGOs who have already expressed serious concerns over the project for environmental reasons.

Earlier this year, demonstrations mobilized 20,000 people against the airport, some of whom occupied the site.

Opposition to the projects has been growing since it was first proposed almost 30 years ago, but has grown in intensity since last year when the current government moved closer to starting the project.

Construction on the 580-million-euro project has been delayed several times. It is scheduled for opening next year, and aims at replacing the current Nantes Atlantique Airport, which only has a capacity of 3 million passengers.

The Aéroport du Grand Ouest wants to increase that number to 9 million by 2050, and become an international gateway for western France.

Critics argue that the current airport can be modernized and say they're concerned about the carbon and climate implications of a new airport.

Even François Hollande's former special envoy for the planet Nicolas Hulot said on in January that the "Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport is one of those projects we should abandon," he told French daily Le Monde.

The result of the referendum is expected by 23:00 Sunday.