Two vast quarry proposals threaten people and biosphere in eastern Europe
Two vast quarry proposals threaten people and biosphere in eastern Europe
The Forest, the Quarry, and the Big Boss
Corporate Watch (UK)
Illegal quarrying in Croatia is threatening one of Europe's most sensitive forests. But activists opposing the destruction are facing a tight web of corruption and violence, weaved by the powerful industry mogul Vlado Zec. By Jaap Krater Slavonia, the north-eastern region of Croatia, in home to an amazing biodiversity hotspot called Papuk. An uninhabited wilderness for centuries, the forest is home to 300- year-old oaks, 70 endangered birds species and 11 species of endangered bats. Mammals include gold mink, marten, linx, wild boar, weasel, deer, fox and beaver. The area is geologically unique, with 350-million-year-old caves and a singular mesozoic rock formation. Very recently, Celtic grave-sites have been found on Papuk mountaintops, dating back to at least 1500BC, and seven castles - medieval, ottoman and gothic-romanic serve as the last remenants of human settlement. Papuk is also a major underwater reservoir with seven springs (one hot), sustaining highly developed ecosystems.
But the rare hard granite that marks the region is also very attractive for the construction industry. Now, the 336 km-sq nature reserve is under threat from illegal quarrying by the Kamen-Ingrad corporation. Because KI quarries illegally, it doesn't pay taxes and thus makes huge profits providing some of the cheapest stone in Eastern Europe as well as related construction products. The stone is used for projects funded by the international community, such as the redevelopment of Bosnia, and the EU-funded Corridor 5c, a highway from Poland to Greece under construction. KI's side activities include building supermarkets and hotels, water-management and mineral water collection. Papuk granite has recently been used for the Zagreb- Split highway, constructed by Bechtel, a vulture multinational infamous in Croatia for their bad quality work; on the first night the new highway opened three people were killed in car crashes.
Kamen-Ingrad is one of Bechtel's main partners and subcontractors in the region. KI has become very popular among the local residents, in large part due to their sponsoring the Kamen-Ingrad Football Club. The club is the private hobby of KI's director and local godfather, Vlado Zec. Zec is a good friend of Croatia's president Stjepan Mesic, who also keeps an economic interest in KI. Another member of the consortium is Nasice Cement, run by Zec's daughter, which is also part of the Italian Nexe group.
Vlado Zec has a decisive influence in local economics and politics. By buying up the stocks of the regional bank, he became a member of the bank's board and has a strong vote in any investment-credits in the area. Zec is also the president of the regional legislative assembly and member of the city council of Pozega, the district capital, as leader of an independent list. His local rule and high-up connections render other parties powerless. Zec's rhetorics on development, growth, job creation, football and other progress-myths make him fit in nicely with the new ideals of a neoliberal Croatia aspiring to join the EU. But Zec and his company are not very beneficial for the locals. During last year's extreme summer drought, Kamen-Ingrad diverted the region's largest water source for industrial work related to its quarrying, and for irrigating the grass at its football field. This has led to locals having a summer without tap water. Dissidents and KI workers who cause problems get to deal with threats and gangs of corporate-hired thugs. A gardener at the football stadium who failed to professionally satisfy his boss was found dead in his home under suspicious circumstances.
Several groups of people oppose economic development and ecocide of Papuk: rangers (state-employed inspectors), rockclimbers, hikers, scientists (particularly bat-experts and geologists), and of course your friendly neighbourhoud eco- activists. Opposition began before the quarrying activities were discovered. Since 1966, Papuk had been sealed off by the Yugoslav army to protect a main radar tower on one of its mountains. The tower has recently been reinstated, to fulfill conditions on Croatia entering NATO. When the army tried to construct a new road to the tower, they were discovered by green activists at the nearby town of Osjecki. A road blockade led to construction being stopped and public awareness of the situation in Papuk.
The Osjecki Greens soon discovered KI's illegal quarrying, which had been going on since 1991, and demanded that the ministry of environment stop this and all other ecocidal activity in Papuk. But Zec's strong political connections have constantly hindered their efforts. The government would only compromise on the planned road while other issues, particularly the quarry, were not discussed. The activists published a book, "Save Papuk", detailing the threats to the park, and then tried to force prosecution of Kamen-Ingrad. They received some support from the new minister of environment, who publicly denounced Vlado Zec as a local tyrant. The minister was fired, and the prosecution refused to press charges for the illegal quarrying. Later, police started an investigation around the source of the explosives used in the quarry but were forced to suspend it by the ministry of the interior.
The activists are now pushing to give Papuk full national park status, and protection as a UNESCO geological monument. Activists have worked together closely with the rangers of the park. Though they employed by the government, they are independent and have to scrounge together their budget by selling nature photo books and asking mountain bikers and climbers for a small fee. In November 2003, the rangers advised the activists to stop visiting Papuk for their own safety. The quarry workers are all armed, making direct action extremely dangerous, and activists have been subjected to numerous threats and violence, in the park and around their own homes.
With an increasingly difficult political situation, the Osjecki Greens are seeking international support and calling for action to force the Croatian government to stop development of Papuk.
Since much of the quarried stone is used for internationally funded projects, building international pressure can change the situation. EU commisioner Margret Wallström has stated in correspondence with the activists that if Croatia wants to enter the EU practices such as those in Papuk will have to end. Of course, these are hollow words considering that EU governments hardly oppose illegal extraction projects in their own countries but in this case pressure on the EU might have some leverage.
Recommended links Osjecki Greens: http://www.zeleni.hr/ Papuk rangers: http://www.pp-papuk.hr/ Kamen-Ingrad: http://www.kamen-ingrad.hr/
Dolomite Quarry Plans Encroach on Caucasian Wilderness
August 11, 2004
Environmental News Service (ENS)
KRASNODAR, Russia - A dolomite quarry to supply the glass industry with raw material is about to be carved out of a unique wilderness area adjacent to the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Area, according to a Caucasus environmental watchdog organization.
Environmental Watch on North Caucasus says that the Resource-Trade Company from Krasnodar is soon to start digging the dolomite quarry six kilometers southeast of Mezmay village in the Apsheronsk District of Krasnodar Territory.
It is planned to place the quarry in the Mokry Zhelob Tract near a unique natural object - the Upper Kurdjips Gorge. The quarry border approaches the 100 meter (328 foot) high rocky precipice of this gorge.
The nesting sites of rare birds, including the white-headed vulture, Gyps fulvus, are situated near the planned mining area.
Teply Stream flowing through Mokry Zhelob Tract is a source of the cleanest underground waters. Karst caves located nearby are of scientific and recreational interest.
Lagonaki Plateau, a part of the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve, is only five kilometers (three miles) from the planned quarry site.
Part of the Lagonaki Plateau (Photo credit unknown)
Mokry Zhelob Tract is located amidst hiking and backpacking trails, it is of recreational importance. The well known mountain ski resort Lagonakiis is several kilometers away.
The initial area of the quarry is expected to be five hectares (12 acres). It located in the Mezmay dolomite deposit, a band one kilometer wide and four kilometers long stretching from Upper Kurdjips Gorge to Kamyshanova Glade.
"It is obvious that five hectares are only the beginning, and further dolomite development will take place on the much broader area," Environmental Watch says.
A road and a water collector pond will be constructed on Teply Stream to serve the quarry. Sewage disposal will be made into this stream. "Opencast dolomite mining with extensive use of explosives will become distress factor for animals," the organization warns.
Wildlife in this area have suffered from the mass tree felling, which took place in this area several decades ago. Less valuable secondary timber grows in separated parcels but still, a passage in the rocky wall of Upper Kurdjips Gorge plays important role in wild animal migration. It is located in the planned quarry area.
"According to unofficial information," Environmental Watch says, the quarry development "is connected to future construction of large glass factory in Adygeya Republic."
Cave in the Mezmay District (Photo courtesy Fishland)
At the same time the authorities of Apsheronsk District and Krasnodar Territory have decided to develop tourism and recreation in the Mezmay Rural District.
"It is a paradox" Environmental Watch says, "that such an ecologically destructive project has received the absolute support of MNR RF's Department of Natural Resources and Environment in Krasnodar Territory."
The Resource-Trade Company has received a license for "exploration with simultaneous mining of dolomite in Mezmay deposit for the glass industry," and has received a mining lease and a positive decision of the state environmental review.
Trees on the future quarry site have already been marked for cutting.
The UNESCO World Heritage Center says the Western Caucasus on the extreme western end of the Caucasus mountains 50 kilometers northeast of the Black Sea, is one of the few large mountain areas of Europe that has not experienced significant human impact.
Its subalpine and alpine pastures have only been grazed by wild animals, and its extensive tracts of undisturbed mountain forests, extending from the lowlands to the subalpine zone, are unique in Europe, UNESCO says. "The site has a great diversity of ecosystems, with important endemic plants and wildlife, and is the place of origin and reintroduction of the mountain subspecies of the European bison."
With these natural treasures in mind, biologists from Kuban State University are protesting against the quarry because the university's biological station, Kamyshanova Glade, is located within a few kilometers of the planned quarry.
The Caucasus Biosphere Reserve was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999. (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
The scientists have sent an official letter to the Chief of Apsheronsk Administration in which they note the great environmental and scientific value of the area "due to the wide expansion of karst forms, endemic and relic vegetation."
In their letter scientists emphasize, that "by the quarry development karst landscape and karst systems will be destroyed, hydro-geological conditions will be broken."
The new mining area "creates a serious pollution threat to underground and surface water," the scientists wrote.
They fear that "explosions will lead to destruction of karst cavities which are valuable in a paleontological, archeological and excursion sense."
In the scientists opinion, the stream flowing through the area the quarry has claimed "is the backup source of pure water which should be preserved."
Scientists of Kuban State University have asked the Head of the Apsheronsk Administration "to make the decision to deny opening the dolomite quarry."
At the moment, promotion of the quarry project is suspended due to what Environmental Watch calls "wide public resonance" of the environmental problems of the Mezmay area. But the quarry construction is on the agenda.
Most agreements concerning this project have already been made, Environmental Watch says. "If the core decision will not be made in the near future, putting a halt to it, shortly explosions will thunder next to the Caucasian Reserve."