With 100 days to go, the Moscow Times reported on Wednesday that Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics in February has run into a few almost insurmountable problems, leaving many to wonder just how prepared and how safe they really are.
Sochi, a city of 400,000 people is situated in Krasnodar, the third largest region in the Russian Federation. It was a real feather in Russia’s cap to get the go-ahead to host the XXII Winter Olympics, a first for the Russian Federation. In 1980, the Soviet Union hosted the Summer Olympics in Moscow.
According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the $51 billion Winter Olympics park and venue was to be built using “Zero Waste,” meaning it would be the “cleanest games ever.” Construction workers were to refrain from dumping industrial waste, and builders would rely on reusable materials when possible.
Early problems with the environmentalists
As early as 2008, environmental activists were complaining that industrial waste was being dumped on hillsides and in unlawful landfills, increasing the danger of sending pollutants into the Mzymta River, and a promenade built along the Black Sea was in danger of being washed away.
The accusations were rebutted by Sochi’s Mayor, Anatoly Pakhomov, who said, “The project was approved by state experts,” he said. “If there were violations, it wouldn’t have been approved.”
Since 2010, there has been no give-and-take of advice or suggestions between environmental groups and Russian Olympic authorities. The lack of interest by the authorities caused the groups to back out of the conversation. What was supposed to be a “green” project has deteriorated into a bureaucratic mess.
Coastal erosion and threat of landslides
Vladimir Slobodyan, head of the Institute of Environmental Design, had this to say at a news conference this week about the environmental issues plaguing the Olympic site in Sochi:
“There was quite a lot built in the coastal area, mostly roads and railways. As a result, the sediment balance was disturbed, and we can already observe coastal erosion. In the future it is possible that we will see deformation, even destruction of the facilities built in the coastal area for the Olympics.”
Slobodyan went on to add that the zones between the Lazarevskoye and Loo areas of Sochi were most critical because the mountain slopes are very close to the coast, and unstable and prone to landslides. Another concern is flooding. In February, Sochi is in an area prone to flooding at that time of year.
Pollution of drinking water in Sochi
The Associated Press paid a visit to Sochi this week, and saw first hand the dumping of industrial waste, including spray cans, concrete slabs, foam materials, tires and other items being dumped illegally into pits, while bulldozers hastily covered the mess with clay.
The landfill, just outside of Sochi is right in the middle of a water protection zone, where dumping of industrial waste is banned. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the area where Sochi is located, told the Black Sea resort’s environment council in late August of this year that they had inspected the Akhshtyr landfill.
Although the dump was in violation of environmental laws, it was not forced to be closed, and the owners of the dump, Russian Railways, was fined $3,000. The big concern is still the water supply. From several reliable sources, it appears the threat of contamination of the water supply is very real.
Ready or not, safe or questionable, it seems the construction goes on despite the underlying problems that have surfaced. As with many issues that have arisen in the past, Russian authorities seem to overlook the rules in order to justify the end results.