Greenpeace Calls to Ensure Environmental Safety of the Olympic Construction

Feature story - 20 July, 2007
Greenpeace insists on changing the plans for construction of the Olympic venues in the Sochi National Park. Today ecologists sent an appeal to the vice chairman of the RF Government A.D. Zhukov who is in charge of the implementation of the Federal Program for preparation of Sochi for hosting the 2014 Olympics. The ecologists demanded to exclude high conservation value areas from the construction plans.

Caucasian Reserve in stormy-clouds

Greenpeace Russia believes that the Government should take urgent measures to solve environmental problems related to the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Coordination Council for realization of the Federal Target Program (FTP) should resolve to withdraw all Olympic venues out of the territory of the Grushevy Range, Caucasian Reserve and its buffer zone. Another demand is for the Coordination Environmental Council to resume its regular activities within the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federatuin.

The other day Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper released the interview with Mr. Zhukov about the preparation fot the Olympics. Some of his statements are, to put it mildly, far from the truth.

For example, to the question about the potential threat to the Caucasian Reserve as a result of the construction, Mr. Zhukov said: «We are not going to hold competitions in the reserve. Following the requests of ecologists, we were visited by the UNESCO experts. They examined all areas allocated for the construction of sports venues and competitions. I met the Secretary General of UNESCO and in details told him about our plans. The organization has no claims against us».

Recently, at the 31st session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC), its members resolved to form a check-up mission with experts of UNESCO and the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN). The mission is going to examine the territory of the World Heritage property «Western Caucasus» which includes the Caucasian Reserve. This decision could only be made because the Committee had its reasons to think that the World Heritage property is under the threat of damage. Based on the findings of the mission, the property can be inscribed in the «World Heritage in Danger» list.

Mr. Zhukov also said: «We do not violate the Russian environmental laws and we do not threaten the properties under UNESCO protection. If we did this we would never be trusted to hold the Olympics».

It’s noteworthy that in 2006 the Russian Government changed the environmental laws to provide legal grounds for the Olympic Construction. Last December the Federal Law «On Protected Nature Areas» was amended. The introduced provisions enable almost any construction operations in the territories of national parks. Meantime, another regulation of the RF Government withdrew some territories from the Sochi National Park allocated for construction of the Olympic venues.

We have information that at present an issue is being considered about withdrawal of some areas of the reserve by means of changing its borders. The aim is to ensure lawful construction of some Olympic venues. Withdrawing a territory of the reserve is a direct violation of the Russian law and the Convention concerning Protection of the UNESCO World Natural and Cultural Heritage.

The vice chairman of the Government also told the journalists: «... The Government, the Organizational Committee for Preparation for the Olympics created a special environmental council formed with both Russian experts and international organizations – Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund and others. All Olympic venues are to be approved by the environmental impact assessment committee. Nothing can be constructed without an approval of ecologists».

It’s noteworthy that the last session of the Coordination Environmental Council of the MNR RF was held on April 13, 2007. None of the resolutions of the Council have been implemented yet.

At present no sports or other venues have been approved by the environmental impact assessment. The law does not provide for the mandatory environmental impact assessment of the constructions in the territory of the National Park, while the amendments into the law providing for the assessment have not been endorsed by the State Duma even in the first reading.

The state environmental impact assessment of the Federal Target Programme «Development of Sochi as a mountain and climate resort up to 2014» was held this spring but it did not consider allocation of specific venues. Meantime, none of the recommendations of the expert panel has been fulfilled. In particular, the coordinated hydroelectric system on the Mzymta River was never excluded from the from construction plans.

Nevertheless, according to mass media, August 6 is a deadline for designing the plan of allocation of all Olympic venues. Naturally, a comprehensive state environmental impact assessment can not be organized in such a short time period.

«We are extremely concerned that the Government does not fulfill its pledges given during the meeting of Mr. Zhukov with representatives of non-governmental organizations this February», says Mikhail Kreindlin, expert of Greenpeace Russia. «Unwillingness to introduce minor changed in the construction plans (though these changes are crucial for the environment) can make the Olympic Games in Russia notorious for the destruction of the World Heritage property».