WWF: Sochi Olympic Construction ‘Out of Control’

Olympic construction in Sochi. Source: Kavkaz-uzel.ruEcologists from the Russian bureau of the World Wildlife Foundation are threatening to withdraw their support for the 2014 Winter Olympics, scheduled to take place in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi, the Kommersant newspaper reports.

In a scathing press release published on their website on Wednesday, the ecologists announced that preparation for the Olympics “has gone out of control, the quality of construction is poor, and great damage to the surrounding environment has already been caused and is going to continue.” Since building contractors have ignored all of the ecologists’ objections, says the announcement, the WWF is putting a halt to cooperation with Olympstroy, the state-owned corporation primarily responsible for construction of Olympic facilities in Sochi.

Representatives at Olympstroy called the announcement a complete surprise, arguing that they have always made an effort to take statements from the WWF into account.

Igor Chestin, head of the Russian bureau of the WWF, disagrees. “We intentionally picked the beginning of the Olympics in Vancouver to tell the world how things are going with observing ecological norms during facility construction in Sochi,” he said. Despite creating a working group and coordination council to bring together ecologists and representatives from Olympstroy and other contracted organizations, and despite the contractors’ approval of all of the ecologists’ proposals for facility construction, there have never been any tangible results.

“The proposals are documented and formalized, but then everything they do goes to the contrary,” Chestin said in outrage. “Last September, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak assured us that the construction would not touch the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve. And now Rosregistr has changed its borders, and Gazprom is building a road to its resort there,” referring to Russia’s massive natural gas corporation.

According to ecologists’ estimates, the cost of the ecological impact of roads and railways being constructed in Sochi is 240 billion rubles, about $8 billion. However, the figure “is based on zoological and biological research conducted by less than ten people in only a couple of weeks.” As a result, unique trees were chopped down and no compensational measures were taken to decrease the impact on the surrounding environment, ecologists say. Additionally, the condition of the surrounding environment is still unmonitored, despite the fact that construction began in 2008. Several prominent parks and reserves have meanwhile suffered a significant decrease in size, including Sochi National Park and the Utrish nature reserve. Plans to build a nature park in Imeretinskaya Valley, which would have compensated for some of the damage caused by the construction, have fallen through.

Even measures that have theoretically been taken to compensate for environmental damage came under criticism in the WWF statement. “A striking example is the planting of box trees to compensate for the virgin forest chopped down during roads and railways construction,” says the WWF. “There was an announcement that seedlings would be brought in from a cultivation facility, but there is a great deal of evidence that they were simply pulled up from the natural forest. This is indirectly confirmed by the fact that no cultivation facility for box trees exists in Russia.”

Chestin said that as a result, the WWF was halting their partnership with Olympstroy and would meanwhile investigate the possibility of withdrawing their support for the Sochi Olympics altogether. “Russian organizations cannot influence anything, and therefore we are going to UNESCO and will wait for a commission from there in the spring,” he said in conclusion.