Townhall meeting in Erkner
FILE PHOTO: A Tesla is parked during a townhall meeting where the public will be able to raise objections to the state and Tesla officials about the planned construction of a new Gruenheide Tesla factory in Erkner near Berlin, Germany, September 23, 2020. REUTERS/Nadine Schimroszik

December 8, 2020

FRANKFURT/BERLIN (Reuters) – Hibernating snakes are complicating Elon Musk’s plans for a gigafactory near Berlin.

A German court has told the U.S. billionaire’s electric vehicle company Tesla to suspend clearing of a forest at the site of the proposed factory in Gruenheide after environmentalists said that cutting down more trees could endanger hibernating snakes.

“The Landesumweltamt (state environmental authority) and Tesla will now be consulted, they need to make submissions by this afternoon and then we assess the situation,” a spokesman for the administrative court in Frankfurt an der Oder in eastern Germany said on Tuesday.

Tesla declined to comment. The Landesumweltamt declined to comment further.

Tesla’s permission to start building its first European factory and design centre hinged on conditional approval by local planning authorities, who are obliged to consult local environmental groups and the community.

Environmental activists from a local group, NABU, told Reuters that the smooth snake, also known as Coronella austriaca, may be hibernating in the ground at the site, and that tree-cutting activity may disturb its winter slumber.

Local authorities are also reviewing claims by NABU that Lacerta agilis, also known as sand lizards, could be put at risk by Tesla’s expansion, the group said.

The carmaker announced plans last November to build the Gigafactory in Gruenheide, outside Berlin with plans to have the factory up and running by July 1, 2021 to start building its electric crossover, the Model Y.

Berlin’s Tagesspiegel was first to report that clearing of the forest had been suspended.

(Reporting by Edward Taylor and Nadine Schimroszik; editing by Thomas Seythal and Carmel Crimmins)

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