Ufa citizens still opposing Austrian formaldehyde and the local authorities

Feature story - 7 November, 2013
It’s been almost 3 months that the Ufa citizens has been standing against the Austrian company Kronospan and its plans of starting a timber factory in the close proximity to a housing settlement. The public hearings held last week, with a number of violations, had no effect on this tense situation.

29 October 2013

"Hom mush does Kronospan cost?" © ИА "Башмедиа"

Even the frost could not make the activists raise their tent camp.

While the government, still keeping silent, goes on firing those of their officials who tried acting according to the law.

Quasi-discussions held and the officials sent packing

In September Greenpeace received a reply to their petition to the environmental procurator's office of the Bashkortostan republic. The district vice procurator confirmed that the KronospanBashkortostan company had not received a permission for the timber factory construction from the district administration. So it was clear as a day: the company had no right to start building. In September, two months of peaceful protests later, the locals managed to get the obligatory public hearings held. On the very day of the final hearings, September 24, the news appeared in the mass media that Marat Salimov had been relieved of his duty as the Republic Construction Supervision and Inspection Service chief expert in charge of checking the legitimacy of the permission for the Kronospan factory construction. It was he who made the district authorities’ town planning and land laws violations public, proving that the permission had been granted against the law.

The very first days of the hearings showed that the results of the public discussions were not worth waiting for: The KronospanBashkortostan company breached the legislation in the part of the documents delivery. For example, they were not only meant to provide the final version of the environmental impact assessment but the assessment specification as well, which they didn’t provide. The Ufa administration in their turn has made a decision adverse to the one made on the federal level. Greenpeace has filed a complaint on the matter to the procurator's office of the Bashkortostan republic.

The final hearings were originally supposed to take place on October 10. The locals have made a complaint about the place and the time of the hearings for authorities planned them for a week day and at a different housing settlement, which has nothing to do with the matter and is situated far from the construction area. Furthermore the authorities have requested advance registration to the hearings to cut down on the number of people present. Still the local activists managed to have the date and the place changed: September 24, a municipal district by the construction site.

A lot of people came with signs against Kronospan. The chairman announced that an updated environment impact assessment had been uploaded to the website that very morning and that this new assessment was to be discussed at the hearings. He must have forgotten that according to the law 30 days time must be granted for examination of a new assessment. People pushed to the very verge of their patience were interrupting spokespeople. The suggestion of “controlling the factory activity together when it’s built” prompted the worst outrage.

Quasi-environmental assessment

The materials of the environmental impact assessment the company has presented seem unconvincing and formal just like everything Kronospan does. The document is incomplete and cannot be considered sufficient for a serious assessment of the environmental risks of the project, and more importantly of the ways of their mitigation.

Among other things the materials provided lack any assessment of the risk of the environmental impact of possible accidents as well as of the response. The “state-of the art equipment” to be installed at the Ufa factory turned out to be the equipment used at the recently burned Sonae timber factory in Liverpool. Thus, considering the use of old equipment, ignoring of the ecological safety laws and connivance of the Republic authorities, we believe that accidents would happen here on regular basis!

Greenpeace has filed its objections to the Ufa district administration and the company Kronospan Bashkortostan. Apart from that, we are preparing a letter with an appeal to the European Bank for the Reconstruction and Development, which has granted a credit for the factory construction, not to finance the project as hazardous to the environment and social stability of the region.

Summary

The concerns that people have in regards to the factory are as we know well-founded. Formaldehyde is a very toxic substance, and the factory is expected to have thousands of tones waste of this substance per year. Formaldehyde causes cancer, central nervous system, reproductive organs, and respiratory diseases as well as genetic effects.

No one can save the locals from this exposure. The Bashkortostan republic government does not seem to be planning to take any steps. At the time the Kronospan factory contract was signedBashkortostan administration did not expect the society to arrange a wide scale peaceful protest. The Ufa citizens would not let the hazardous factory to be built, so the administration chose to play a civil society by holding a couple of public hearings. The citizens recommended the authorities “not to forget the history of the Bashkir people and revolts”. Right now the activists continue gathering signatures for the letter to the Russian president and the republic president demanding to stop the factory construction.