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Icelanders protest highway construction to protect the environment and nearby elves

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A massive highway project was halted, then restarted in Iceland after activists raised concerns about its impact on the environment.

The primary issue, brought by a coalition of groups before the country's supreme court, is the encroachment on a lava field that was designated a protected area in 2009. The secondary issue, which has captured many more headlines, is the welfare of Huldufolk, or elven "hidden folk" who may be living nearby.

Polls say a majority of Icelanders are at least open to the idea of the existence of elves, and concern for elven well-being has halted construction projects before. This endearing trivia has been regurgitated in travelogues and news articles, and there are some elf advocates protesting this road project. But some Icelanders say it's not as common as outsiders claim.

Icelandic media are hitting back

The Associated Press reported that the highway from the Álftanes peninsula to a suburb of Reykjavik was being halted in order to resolve claims that it would disturb an elven church. Icelandic media are hitting back, however, saying the AP story includes factual errors and exaggerates the country's belief in elves. The AP story omitted the fact that the land was protected, for example.

"An earnest effort to conserve some pristine lava is turned into something trite and superficial," Icelandic journalist Alda Sigmundsdóttir wrote on Facebook. "The story is false. It is probably written by someone who learned about it in a bar," wrote the Icelandic publisher Benedikt Jóhannesson.