Kurgalskii Refuge in the “crooked lens” of the administration, or Why you need to go to hearings
A tale of how scientists saw themselves in the crooked lens of the Leningrad regional administration, what they did, and then what happened
On March 24, 2017, on the fourth floor of the Kingisepski region administration building, a remarkable group gathered. On one side – representatives of the regional governments, and on the other – Saint Petersburg scientists. Also present, though truthfully not for long, were two residents of the Kurgolskii peninsula, whose fate was decided from behind a long, completely straight table.
The reason for meeting is the public hearings about new regulations regarding the unique Kurgalskii Refuge.
Photo by S. Kouzov
It would appear that there would only be rejoicing. After all, strengthening protection and widening borders was proposed. At least, that followed from the information, which, was read at the beginning by Alexander Siluyanov, acting director of the “Directorate of Specially Protected Natural Territories of the Leningrad Region”.
But there was some sort of unhappiness showing on the face of the scientists. Soon it became clear why: reports, which these scientists presented to those assembling the Comprehensive Environmental Survey Materials (CESM), which form the basis of the new regulations regarding the refuge, turned out to be – to put it mildly – “incorrect.” If we speak simply, as it would appear to an ordinary person – “falsified.”
The meeting agenda was led by the department head of the directorate of specially protected natural territories of the Committee of Natural Resources of the Leningrad regional administration, Fyodor Stulov. Photo by Activatica.
Obvious – Unbelievable
When we take the word of specialists, who have studied the unique peninsula, it appears we have all fallen into a bad dream. Well, there can be no such thing in real life.
So, how was the future of the Kurgalskii Refuge seen in the crooked lens of the administration?
The first surprising fact was read out from the report, and it concerns the area of the refuge. Officially, it is 59,950 hectares. Recently conducted calculations using some “new technologies” showed that it is 49,830 hectares. The new provision suggests including new sites in the refuge and then the size will be either 55,510 (p. 192 CESM) or 54,650 hectares (p. 193 CESM)!
The materials don’t include reasoning for this strange fact, there are no calculations of the refuge size, and there is no way to check the reliability of the provided information. Believe these words? On what basis?
The following discussion showed that, yes, there are no grounds for trust.
It was stated at the hearings that the materials presented are an exact copy of what was handed over by the administrant of the CESM, and on the title page there is no date of their approval! Photo: Activatica.
We give you the scientists’ words:
Senior Scientist of the Botanical Institute, Elena Glazkova.
“I speak not just for myself, but also for colleagues at the Botanical Institute, which supports its researchers, knowing their competence, and considers any sort of data distortion absolutely unacceptable. Intentional or unintentional.
The data presented in the CESM contain many significant errors. The attached maps are not consistent with reality. Some terrestrial species of plants turn out to be swimming in lakes.
The list of especially valuable objects has been severely shortened: instead of four pages, the list now fits in four paragraphs.
The institute staff declares that it doesn’t bear responsibility for the incomplete, unreliable information that is presented, without agreement from the authors, in the CESM.
This incorrect material could result in creating a “loophole” for the gas pipeline Nord Stream-2 (author’s note: this problem is not being discussed at the highest international level) to pass through the Kurgalskii Refuge.”
Terrestrial plants are in lakes – they are flowers. More still! Ornithologist Sergei Kouzov suddenly found out that storks nest on the ground, and a bird unable to walk on land lives in a forest!
To speak to this bewilderment, Sergei Kouzov set forth a number of points:
“In the CESM there is no outline of particularly valuable ornithological sites, even though this material was submitted to the developer. The impression is compounded, for on terrestrial parts of the refuge there are simply no such sites.
If this outline of the nesting places of rare specials were to fall into specialists’ hands, it would cause a storm of laughter. The final developer of the material settled the storks on an island where there are no trees. A waterfowl, the red necked grebe, which cannot egress onto dry land, nests throughout the refuge: in the forest, in fields, on islands. Wherein, only three nests of this rare species were found.
The outline of valuable forest communities contains many errors. For example, extensive parts of highland bogs are marked as mature pines. Some forest areas are not marked as where they actually are. The outline of rare bird species nesting differs from reality.
In volume one of the ornithology section, a site outline is proposed that needs differentiated protection (a protection regime which can be introduced depending on the season or the value of each individual plot – author’s note). But then, it is written at the end that introducing a differentiated protection regime is not necessary! And then, in the description of proposed methods of protection, they again speak about the need for differentiated protection!”
Photo: S. Kouzov
Another representative of the Botanical Institute - Irina Stepanchikova:
“I want to emphasize that, it seems to be, the lack of a map of lichens is an important point. If the materials are not changed to agree with that which we provided, it will cause damage to our reputation. If my materials are taken and something is thrown out… it is unacceptable!”
Biological sciences candidate Anna Doronina:
“The cartographic materials are unreliable, their data don’t agree with what researchers provided. The maps must be redone and in accordance with the researchers who bear responsibility for their work.”
Do you believe, having heard this, the CESM charterer decided to demand from the developer an explanation and that errors are corrected? You guessed it, but more on that later.
Recognizing failure cannot be approved – add a comma
Photo: S. Kouzov
The head of environmental protection programs at the NGO New Ecological Project, Anastasia Filippova, outlined the joint position of her organization and Greenpeace Russia. In short – it is impossible to understand what we are discussing now, therefore it is necessary to recognize the hearings as invalid.
“It is impossible to establish what exactly appears to be the object and subject of public discussions. For example, there is no data that would allow for verifying the reliability of the approval that measurements by “modern methods” showed that the refuge’s size was previously overstated. It is impossible to understand how the materials presented will impact that fate of specially protected territories. It is unclear how this relates to our current situation with the existing zoning.
This section of the environmental impact statement does not comply with the requirements of the Russian State Ecological Committee Order from May 16, 2000, No. 327: There are no main results of this assessment; the given data are insufficient for an assessment of potential consequences.
On page 174 it is indicated that the water protection zone of Lake Lipovskoe is 50 meters. In fact, in accordance with Article 65 of the Russian Water Code, the width of the shore protection buffer of this lake should be 200 meters.
In connection with all of the above, I suggest that the hearings be declared invalid.”
Public hearing, Activatica Photo
After this, real distortion began.
To begin, the deputy chairman of the Economic Committee of the Kingisepp Administration, Lyubov Vladimirova Kozina, stated that legislation doesn’t permit the recognition of public hearings as invalid. Thus she, to put it mildly, gave incorrect information. Legislation does not prohibit such a decision, and the hearing organizer has every right to accept it. In practice, there are some of these cases. One of the examples that is well-known and relevant to this region is the hearing on the construction of an incineration plant in Levashova. They are recognized as invalid.
After this, a journalist from Novaya Gazeta, Andrei Voronin, took representatives of the Leningrad regional administration who participated in the hearings for a turn. This conversation ought to be reproduced in full, so as not to lose any of its fantastic deception.
Photos: S. Kouzov
Department head of the directorate of specially protected natural territories of the Committee of Natural Resources of the Leningrad regional administration, Fyodor Stulov.
Acting director of the Directorate of Specially Protected Natural Territories of the Leningrad Region, Alexander Siluyanov.
Novaya Gazeta Correspondent, Andrei Voronin.
Voronin: Is there any indication in the terms of reference that the materials provided to you should be reliable?
Stulov: The terms of reference were attached to the survey materials, you can acquaint yourself with them.
Voronin: I asked a direct question – can you answer it?
Siluyanov: In the materials, which were presented to the public hearings, there is a copy of the terms of reference, you can acquaint yourself with them.
Voronin: Fine. Do you have the right to accept inaccurate materials?
Siluyanov: We accept materials in accordance with the terms of reference…
Voronin: A client is interested in obtaining reliable materials, or for you does it not matter what will be written in the materials?
Siluyanov: We accept materials in accordance with the requirements of the terms of reference.
Voronin: Are you interested in obtaining reliable information as a client?
Siluyanov: We are interested in work under the government contract being fulfilled in accordance with the terms of reference.
Voronin: Is the client interested in the position being created on the basis of relevant, reliable materials?
Stulov: You already asked this question, and you were given an answer to it.
Voronin: Would the client, having heard from the authors of the materials that they are unreliable, contract the executor with the requirement that the materials are corrected?
Siluyanov: Your question… first, we already answered it. Second, your question is of evaluative character and has nothing to do with the topic of the public hearings. Whether or not the client will address it – that is their question. And in reality it does not have any relation to the subject of the public hearings.
So it goes.
By the way, in the terms of reference, which the Directorate of Specially Protected Natural Territories of the Leningrad Region issued to the executor of the non-profit continuing professional education “Applied Ecology”, it is written in black and white that the CESM must correspond with reality and contain reliable data.
At the end of the hearings, representatives of the regional administration assured that all comments and suggestions would be appended to the materials. As for this actually occurring, it, in fact, depends on the whim of officials. Judging from their behavior at the hearings, this whim is unlikely to arise if this situation is allowed to progress as usual. Therefore, the informal “Environmental Watch of the Kurgalskii Peninsula” will take additional measures and will carefully follow the proceedings.
Now the main task is to see that faked materials are not received in approval for government environmental expertise documentation. The materials will go there after completion of all formal procedures and signoff on the protocol of the public hearings. As seen from the speeches of the representatives of the CESM client, they are unlikely (I’d really like to be mistaken) to bring the CESM documents in order. If they succeed in lining up a “handpicked” expert commission and from it, receive a positive decision, the refuge may find itself in a difficult position with incompetent regulations and an inadequate protection regime.
Given that Gazprom is pushing hard for the illegal project of building the gas pipeline Nord Stream-2 through the refuge, the situation looks quite bad. The defenders of Kurgalskii say they have several ideas about how to minimize the threat. For the time being, they are keeping them a secret.
Thus it’s not for nothing that they went to a hearing in distant Kingisepp. It is necessary to go to public hearings and keep an eye on officials where the law permits this for every citizen. The greater we are, the fewer “dark corners” will remain, where officials and businessmen can crank out their secret affairs.
Translated by Lilya Morevna. The Russian Version is here