Imeretinskaya lowland is situated between rivers Psou and Mzymta. The uniqueness of this area was recognized as long ago as 1911, during the Tzar Government. Back then, Imeretinskaya lowland was granted a legal status of specially protected natural zone. Before Olympic constructions had started, i.e. before 2007, Imeretinskaya lowland was a home of unique to Russia colcha wetlands with its unique flora and fauna. The lowland itself has a status of a key ornithological area of international importance (BirdLife International). The area is important as a stop for migratory birds. It is also a habitat for variety of bird species. It is the habitat of relic and rare species legally protected by the Red Book of Russia and Krasnodar kray (the list of threatened and endangered species). Olympic management chose the center of Imeretinskaya lowland for Coastal Cluster (Olympic park).
Seaports and Seashore Infrastructure Construction
According to Governmental program ‘Development of Sochi as a mountain resort in 2006-2014’ (as of Dec. 31, 2008 № 1086), two big seaports accompanied by seashore infrastructure in Imeretinskaya lowland were included in the Olympic construction plan. Environmentalists stated that such seaports (cargo ports) will damage the environment of the lowland which is the place of stops of migratory birds. Dolphins will be negatively affected as well as a result of lack of food. In 2009, International non-profit ‘International Social and Ecological Union’ and Kalinovskaya N.N. (famous oppositioner to Olympic construction works in Sochi) filed the complaint to the Supreme Court of Russia. Although, the Court did not prohibit the seaport construction. It is hard to understand the Court’s decision as it is tacit about its reasoning. The cassation affirmed the decision being tacit about reasoning as well. Virtually, the Court outlawed environmental laws as a ground to reverse Olympic program in a part of Imeretinskaya lowland development.
Shore Protection Works
Shore protection works (par. 69 of the Olympic Construction Program, Imeretinskaya Lowland area from ПК51 to ПК70) are of particular interest in this part of Sochi 2014 environmental destruction. Shore protection works had started without necessary (prescribed by law) state ecological expertise and without conducting public participation. Local residents along with Environmental Watch on North Caucasus (EWNC) and Russian Geographical Society (its Sochi Branch) are still fighting for natural public beach, preservation of unique marine flora and fauna, creation of Ornithological park, and for compliance with Russian environmental and human rights laws.
Civil Society and Governmental Reaction
Olympic constructions in Imeretinskaya lowland does not seems following a balanced approach. More likely, it is total destruction of the area. It seems that civil society had used all possible legal tools to protect Imeretinskaya lowland: organized rallies, requested State Corporation ‘Olympstroy’ and subcontractor all necessary paperwork, initiated dialogue with ‘Olympstroy’, temporarily managed to stop illegal construction works by organizing acts of civil disobedience, requested parliamentary investigations, complained to President, Prosecutor’s Office, Governor of Krasnodar Kray (Sochi is within Krasnodar kray as administrative and territorial division of Russia), State Duma, Head of the Government and other public authorities.
Importantly, civil society was subject to civil litigation, where State Corporation ‘Olympstroy’ requested the court to prohibit civil society from ‘putting obstacles on the way of construction’. The court satisfied that request.
Russian Geographical Society (Sochi Branch) and EWNC managed to repatriate some of the species to a relatively ‘safe’ environment – to the area of future Ornithological Park. By doing this, environmentalists are saving endangered and threatened species from chaotic Olympic construction of boardwalk and shore protection infrastructure.
Moreover, endangered and threatened species have to cohabit with Olympic household and construction wastes.
Interestingly, here you may see pictures and description of ‘OIympstroy’ s vision on repatriation of the species. Perception of the issue differs dramatically.
Instead of promoting compliance with environmental laws, the government suppresses Natalia Kalinovskaya, a famous local activist. Kalinovskaya is the leader of protest movement against Olympic constructions in Sochi, a member of EWNC. She was detained numerous times, was the target of ‘preventive talks’ with policemen, sentenced to administrative fines. Kalinovskaya was also harassed by policemen when they wanted to threaten her by inclusion in the Federal Search List. Policemen threatened Kalinovskaya with criminal charges, showing the document which did not state neither the reason for federal search nor preventive punishment measures.
The Last Natural Monument is Destroyed by Olympics
The area at issue here (the last natural monument) is the beach 700 m long, which is the home of endemic threatened and endangered species included in the Red Book of Russia and Krasnodar kray, meaning that these species are legally protected from ‘taking’ them from their natural habitat (Eryngium maritimum, Euphorbia paralias,Crambe maritima, Vítex agnus-castus, and others). Russian Geographical Society (Sochi branch) has been working more than two decades advocating for preservation of this unique area. In 1993, RGS gained the inclusion of the area in the general plan of Sochi. However, the Government decided to build the Olympic object there (a boardwalk and shore protection). Then RGS collaborated closely with ‘Olympstroy’ trying to persuade them to save this unique area. Scientists proposed to include this unique area in the territory of Ornithological Park in Imeretinskaya lowland (Olympic project, http://ornitoparksochi.ru/) Nonetheless, area was not included in the Park.
Then, RGS submitted several scientific expertises proving the unique nature of the area at issue to Olympstroy, The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Nature Management Federal Service, Head of Krasnodar kray Administration, and Head of Sochi Administration. Scientists proposed to include the area in Olympic ‘green’ projects, where trails and tours might be organized. ‘Olympstroy’ even issued decisions on preservation of the species but all of them are still on the paper.
Even UNEP, during its visit in February 2012, recommended to declare moratorium on any constructions on the territory and to establish legal protection of the area on the federal level. None of these has been done.
Ornithological Park is Olympic Greenwash
All would be great if not that horribly environmentally disastrous. In preparation to the Park, they dump and bury huge amounts of construction waste (new and from destroyed private houses) and household waste. It was promised to create several artificial ponds for birds. One pond was created indeed, but its bank and bottom is full of waste, and oncrete constructions are sticking out of water. No vegetation around the pond. During the public environmental inspection (May 2012), conducted by EWNC, one duck was spotted. According to ‘Olympstroy’ version, birds are already occupying the area of the Park (in February 2012).
So far, the situation does not have a positive progress.
By Yulia Genin
Based on materials of EWNC, Kavkazsky Uzl, materials of the Supreme Court available at http://maryukhova.livejournal.com/4868.html , http://www.ewnc.org/node/11201 , http://www.ewnc.org/node/8339 , http://www.ewnc.org/node/8338 , http://www.ewnc.org/node/7783 , http://www.ewnc.org/node/8087 , http://www.ewnc.org/node/6278 , http://ru.wikipedia.org/ , http://www.supcourt.ru/ .