INSIGHTS: Sochi National Park to Be Sliced Up for 2014 Olympic Games

By Suren Gazaryan, PhD

SOCHI, Russia, October 14, 2010 (ENS) – The Russian government is planning to take land from Sochi National Park and give it to the City of Sochi, the host city for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, a government source told the nonprofit Environmental Watch on North Caucasus on Thursday.

Nagapet Delokyan of the Krasnodar region’s department of architecture said that Krasnodar regional authorities reached an agreement with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak to hand over 3,500 hectares (13.5 square miles) from the Sochi National Park “necessary for developing the City of Sochi” as part of “correction of the borders.”

Suren Gazaryan (Photo courtesy Boyan Petrov)

In exchange, the government plans to give the Sochi National Park forested lands from the village of Loo.

Giving the national park lands from the forest, which is located near the park in northwest Sochi, is the only compensation measure the government is taking for the damage done by construction of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a city on the shore of the Black Sea.

Experts have doubted that such an exchange is reasonable, as the forested lands are not as valuable as the unique ecosystems along the River Mzymta, which have been practically eradicated in the course of Olympic preparations.

Estosadok village, site of the ski resort Alpika-Service is in Sochi National Park. A Sochi Light Metro station is planned here to connect with the Sochi Airport, Sochi Olympic Village and downtown Sochi. (Photo by Tanya B)

In the same time, according to government decree, these forest lands are already federally protected, making the compensatory exchange completely irrelevant.

The decree, signed in 2003, gave 9,026 hectares (35 square miles) of the most valuable lands belonging to the Loo forest to the Sochi Zakaznik, a game reserve under federal environmental protection.

The game reserve still ensures that these lands are protected with more effectiveness than the Sochi National Park, which is within the Western Caucasus World Heritage Site.

Another 3,000 hectares of the remaining 13,000 hectares in the Loo forest were given to Krasnodar regional authorities either under ownership or rental agreements, and cannot be part of the future compensatory swap with the national park.

The remaining area that could be given to the park is only about 10,000 hectares. These lands are part of the forest land fund and are federal property, although managed by the Krasnodar region administration. Under the Forest Code, any property construction on these lands is forbidden.

Remains of Russia’s largest river valley box tree forest on the banks of the River Mzymta, July 2010 (Photo courtesy Environmental Watch on North Caucasus)

At a meeting on September 15, Deputy Prime Minister Kozak, who is charged with overseeing Olympic preparations, agreed with Krasnodar region’s proposal to take up to 7,000 hectares from the national park.

Half these park lands, 3,500 hectares, will be given to municipal authorities for the swap, while another 3,500 hectares will be taken up by Olympic projects. Lands could be taken from the national park as early as December 2010.

If this happens, the Olympic “compensatory measure” announced by Russian authorities will be nothing but a large-scale land machination with territories under environmental protection.

The 10,000 hectares of forest land far from the sea, on which construction is already prohibited, will be “exchanged” for valuable national park’s lands near the coast and around Krasnaya Polyana resort, which Krasnodar regional authorities will be able to use for any construction projects.

Without question, such a deal is applauded by all officials that deal with land allocation, as well as by investors who will be able to use lands from the national park to construct luxury real estate developments.

One of two Olympic venues for ice hockey is constructed in Sochi, September 2009. (Photo courtesy Sochi 2014 Winter Games)

Plans after the land reallocation were not discussed with the public, but it can be inferred that lands closest to the sea, which have the greatest environmental value, will be snapped up by investors and construction companies first.

Many of these lands are currently under strict protection due to the unique value of coastal ecosystems.

The Environmental Watch of North Caucasus believes that the planned land scheme is unacceptable, both from the environmental and legal points of view.

It plans to bring this to the attention of both the International Olympic Committee and the United Nations Environmental Programme, which will have a mission in Sochi starting from October 17.

The International Olympic Committee Coordination Commission wound up a three day visit to Sochi today. The Commission praised Sochi’s progress and said that, with 1,212 days to go, the Russian organizers remain on track to host great Olympic Winter Games in 2014.

Commission Chairman Jean-Claude Killy said, “Once again we have been impressed by the quality of the work that Sochi 2014 and its partners have presented to us during our visit. As they reach the halfway point in their preparations, we can see the progress that is being made, with sporting venues rising from the ground, new sections of road being used by the public, and environmental initiatives being undertaken.”

The Sochi Winter Olympic Games are scheduled to open on February 7, 2014.

{Dr. Suren Gazaryan is a member of Environmental Watch on North Caucasus. He is a bat expert based at Russia’s Institute of Ecology of Mountain Territories.}

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