View of the city of Sochi. Photo: Sergey Subbotin,

12 February 2014, 20:17

Sochi Olympics: environmental problems

For the time of preparing the Olympic Games in Sochi, the region located in a unique climate zone was transformed into a huge construction site, which could not but worry ecologists. The authorities claim compliance with environmental standards, while ecologists and civil society activists argue that in many cases the Olympic construction has become a mockery over the nature of Western Caucasus and residents of the Greater Sochi; and activists themselves were persecuted.

The "Caucasian Knot" has compiled a set of most serious environmental problems associated with the Games. The below chronology is based on the materials of the "Caucasian Knot" correspondents for the period from 2006 to 2013.


Sochi society defends the status of protected areas

In early 2013, the began extracting gravel for construction purposes from the bed of the Shakhe River, one of the main drinking water arteries of the resort city. The work was done by the "ZhD Stroyservice" Company. "Sochi has three rivers that water the whole city. From Golovinka to Dagomys – it is the Shakhe River; from Dagomys to Bytkha – it is the Sochinka River; and from Bytkha to Adler – it is the Mzymta River. The attitude to them is barbaric," said Professor Nikolai Kulikov, a member of the Public-Ecological Council under the Mayor of Sochi. The environmental threats caused a public outcry.

On September 17, in Sochi, the first attempt was undertaken to hold a hearing on the issue of removing the status of specially protected natural territories from 28 objects of nature. However, all those who gathered at the hearing voted against it, because the event was poorly prepared. The commission decided to postpone the hearing by two months.

In November, many ecologists and social activists declared inadmissibility of removing the status of specially protected areas from monuments of nature, as it would allow dishonest businessmen and state officials to squander natural resources and appropriate natural resources of Sochi without the account of the opinion of the majority.


Illegal construction in the territory of the Caucasian Reserve

On May 30, the bosses of the Caucasian Reserve announced the illegality of building a frontier base in its territory. "The administration of the Caucasus Nature Reserve has never authorized the construction of the frontier base in its territory, and will seek to remove the already built structures," said Sergey Shevelev, the director of the reserve.

On August 28, frontier guards dismantled five buildings that were erected in spring in the Caucasus Nature Reserve right on migration routes of wild animals, said the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of Russia. At the same time, the Prosecutor's Office confirmed violations at illegal construction.


Limestone mining in Sochi National Park

In September, in the territory of the Sochi National Park, another illegal quarry was found – this time in the valley of the Psou River, the "Ecological Watch for Northern Caucasus" reported with reference to local residents, According to ecologists, the location of the second quarry was established through the analysis of satellite imagery data, provided by the non-profit partnership "Transparent World". "The second illegal quarry affects the unique Shakhgin Gorge, where 11 plant species listed in the Red Book of Russia are growing," said ecologists.


UN experts: Olympic preparations have negative impact on ecology

In March, UN experts presented a special report, prepared based on the January examination, carried out by the experts of the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) mission, where they accused Russian officials of delaying the decision-making related to reducing the negative impact of the Olympic preparations on the environment. The report presented ecologists' comments, who claim that as a result of the construction, the environment had suffered an irreparable damage: traditional animals' habitats were destroyed, including those of bears and birds. It was particularly noted that the main threat is to the Mzymta River, along which they built a highway and a railroad to the venue of the Games.


Sochi National Park: Red-Book tree felling and ecologists' protests

On August 19, a group of activist of the "Ecological Watch for Northern Caucasus" from Sochi, Krasnodar, Maikop and Nizhny Novgorod held an action in defence of the law at the construction of the combined road Adler-Krasnaya Polyana.

Ecologists and local activists blocked the work of the workers of the Limited Liability Company (LLC) "Stroydor-A" in the territory of District No. 3 of the Veselovsk District Forestry of the Sochi National Park, next to the "Temporary Bridge No. 4" across the Mzymta River. The participants of the action came to the production base of the LLC "Stroydor-A" located near the bridge, where workers were finishing their breakfast and "explained them that there would be no work on that day, as the tree felling was illegal."

On August 20, the ecologists Andrei Rudomakha and Suren Gazaryan were detained near the construction site of the road Adler-Krasnaya Polyana in Sochi.


Ecologists record violations in construction of Olympic roads and facilities

On January 23, a delegation of the "Greenpeace" handed over to the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne 5000 signatures of Russians who demanded to remove the construction site of the future Olympic bobsleigh track in Sochi.

In June, the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) supported the position of the World Wildlife Fund and the "Greenpeace-Russia", which had expressed the need to remove the bobsleigh complex and the Olympic Village, built for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, from the Grushevoy Ridge to some alternative locations. Activists of the leading environmental organizations of Russia – the "Greenpeace" and the WWF – noted that they welcomed the position of UNEP and encouraged the Organizing Committee (OC) "Sochi-2014" and the State Corporation "Olimpstroy" to conduct a real work for considering the alternative options for locating the Olympic facilities jointly with independent international experts.

On July 29, ecologists said that in the Imereti Lowland, the most valuable in terms of nature, located near the mouth of the Psou River, began construction of a second container port without necessary permits. Activists felt that these works will cause irreparable damage to the environment of the Region.

On September 19, the then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin instructed the appropriate agencies to provide the "Interros" Company with additional 100 hectares of land for the construction of the facilities for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Vladimir Potanin, the head of the "Interros" explained that the land was needed for the construction of the Olympic Village, and the snowboarding and freestyle tracks. According to his story, the land that had been allocated earlier (540 hectares), and the additional 100-hectare plot, are the lands of the National Park; the land will be granted into long-term lease.

In September 2008, Sochi ecologists reported violations of the environmental legislation near the village of Akhshtyr. On September 8 and 9, activists of the "Ecological Watch for Northern Caucasus" conducted a public inspection and found that Akhshtyr and the adjacent territory of the Sochi National Park are under intensive works of the construction of the "Adler-Krasnaya Polyana" railway and motor highway.

In September, the Committee of the Russian State Duma on Natural Resources held a roundtable in Sochi and recognized the unfavourable ecological situation in the Krasnodar Territory. According to Natalia Komarova, the Chair of the above Committee, "we see a steady negative trend to decrease the environmental, spa and recreational potentials of the federal resorts of Sochi, Gelendzhik and Anapa." In her opinion, the reasons for the bad environment in the region were in "the failure to follow the provisions of the current legislation and a lack of coordination of the federal and regional authorities."


"No to the Olympiad organized through nature destruction and violation of Sochi residents' rights!"

On March 21, the Russia's Supreme Court dismissed the complaint of the "Greenpeace" against the Russian government and found the Sochi development programme that included the construction of Olympic facilities in that region of the Krasnodar Territory legitimate. In their turn, ecologists announced their intention to appeal the above court decision.

On July 3, on the eve of the final decision of the IOC on the place of the 2014 Winter Olympics Games, 47 Russian environmental and public organizations sent an appeal to the IOC President entitled "No to the Olympiad organized through nature destruction and violation of Sochi residents' rights!"

In August, Andrei Rudomakha, the coordinator of the "Ecological Watch for Northern Caucasus", said that apart from a cargo port at the mouth of the Psou River, they planned to build the second container port in the estuary of the Mzymta River within the preparation for the Sochi Olympics.

On July 7, three days after the approval of Sochi as the host city of the 2014 Olympics, the second wave of protests was organized by ecologists and residents of the resort city. The IOC supported the "barbaric project for the build-up of the Caucasian Nature Reserve," the "green" activists stressed.


Start of "Olympic invasion"; "Gazprom" and "Interros" begin using land of Sochi National Park

Two years before Sochi was elected to be the host city of the 22nd Winter Olympic Games, a master development plan for the mountain village of Krasnaya Polyana was presented to the public. Already at the discussion stage, ecologists expressed particular concern that 84 percent of the territory of the complex are the lands of Sochi National Park; and under the proposed loading (3 million visitors annually; 28,000 skiers and about 3000 so-called "contemplative" tourists daily), the nature will be inevitably degraded.

Large land plots were granted for development to the "Gazprom" and "Interros" Companies. In spring, the "Gazprom" built a settlement and began laying a ropeway directly to the Caucasus Nature Reserve.

In the summer of 2006, near the village of Krasnaya Polyana, in the territory of the Sochi National Park, they began building the alpine ski complex "Roza Khutor", which later became one of the first venues of the 2014 Olympics.

On August 26, the "Ecological Watch for Northern Caucasus" released a message that criticized the alpine ski project: "A serious adverse impact will be inflicted on the aquatic ecosystems and in general on the hydrological regime of the Mzymta River."

On September 10, the "Greenpeace-Russia" announced its intention to challenge at the Supreme Court the Federal Target Programme "Development of Sochi as Mountain Resort (2006-2014)", drafted by the Russian Government in preparation for possible Winter Olympic Games. Then, ecologists pointed out that according to Russian laws, any economic activities are prohibited in the preservation area of the Sochi National Park. Nevertheless, the construction of sporting facilities, in particular, of the "Carousel" Complex, was launched in the Park, including its most unique sections. Apart from the Olympic complex, they also planned to create a vast infrastructure, including a hydroelectric power plant (HPP) on the Mzymta River and a high-speed railway.

On October 9, in Sochi, it was decided to build an ice palace of the 2014 Winter Olympic in the Imereti Lowland, which, according to ecologists, marked the start of the large-scale "Olympic" invasion into the ecosystem of this natural area. Along with the area of Krasnaya Polyana, the Imereti Lowland became a concentration of all the infrastructure of the 2014 Olympics. To provide electric power to the Olympic venues, a site was allocated in the Lowland to build the Adler Thermal Power Plant (TPP), which could make a major contribution to the pollution of the resort city.

In early December, within the framework of the Federal Target Programme "Development of Sochi as Mountain Resort (2006-2014)", near Krasnaya Polyana the began building, illegally as ecologists stated, the road from the lower landing of the ski resort "Alpika-Service" to the "Pslukh" cordon of the Caucasian Reserve.

Source: Materials of the "Caucasian Knot" correspondents

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