Grigory Pasko: The Vyborg Hearings on Nord Stream, Part 1

[Our correspondent in Russia recently discovered that the border town of Vyborg near St. Petersburg was going to hold discreet (practically secret) public hearings on Gazprom’s mega-project, the Nord Stream pipeline, to discuss the social and environmental impact of the initiative. Below is the first of three reports from the hearings, which Pasko attended at the end of November.] nordstream.jpgIf you’ve heard, does that mean you approve? A report from the public hearings in Vyborg on the Nord Stream pipeline construction project, Part 1 By Grigory Pasko, journalist After late November’s freezing temperatures in Moscow, Vyborg greeted me with rain. It was dirty and damp, and there were hardly any people around. I bought the local newspapers in a kiosk. It turned out that there were only two of them. I went into the city library in order to read these newspapers and leaf through older issues in binders. The local newspapers had calls to vote for «the party of Putin» and «Putin’s Plan». But reports about how public hearings were supposed to be taking place that day about a burning issue for the residents of Vyborg Rayon – the impact of the Nord Stream gas pipeline on the environment – were totally absent in all the newspapers. Later I found an archive of announcements for the mass media from the press service of the administration of Vyborg Rayon. Here’s the information bulleting for 23 November 2007.

1. Holiday, dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the Tsvelodubovskaya general education school.2. Holiday, Day of the Worker of Agriculture and the Processing Industry.3. Holiday events, dedicated to the All-Russian Day of the Mother.4. Open tournament in boxing.Employees of the city library told me that the number of inhabitants of Vyborg who had familiarized themselves with the materials of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Russian section of the Nord Stream marine gas pipeline over the past month was insignificant.I familiarized myself with the «Book of registration of juridical and physical persons», which is found in a corner especially dedicated to the EIA. There were 40 entries there. That is, 40 persons had familiarized themselves with the materials. In the main – co-eds from local colleges. Here are some of their entries. Engineer-Technologist Nikolai Yevtushenko entered: “It is necessary to assess the damage to the environment…”. Students from the Academy of State Service Irina Dmitrieva and Nina Guseva: “We – are for gas. This is the promise of the future.” Teacher from secondary school No. 1 Nadezhda Knyazeva: “…We are not immune from technogenic catastrophes. The project is economically important, but ecologically dangerous.” Schoolgirl Xenia Chizhova: “I feel sorry for nature!”In the «Book of comments and proposals» (yes, there’s a book like that, too), there are all of nine entries. The supervisor of the library’s reading room, Alla Vladimirovna, clarified that there were few people who desired to familiarize themselves with the EIA materials because few people know that such materials are found in the library. And it’s not like people come visit the library for no particular reason – just the regular readers. In the words of Alla Vladimirovna, she had read the materials and had come to a conclusion about how the managers of the company Nord Stream had not given all the numbers truthfully. For example, she does not believe that the summary damage from the construction of the gas pipeline along the territory of Vyborg Rayon and Portovaya Bay will comprise a mere 71.5 million rubles.lydi1204.jpgRepresentatives of the public participating in the unadvertised public hearings (Photo by Grigory Pasko)From the «Brief account of the preliminary variant of the materials with respect to the EIA», an ordinary citizen can find out what is an “intermediate platform”, a “suction intake cap”, an “anchoring positioning system”, and a host of other technical terms. But he can not find out how many hectares of forest will be cut down on the territory of Vyborg Rayon. The designers of the project did not skimp on the epithets: in the documents there is praise for gas (“it has the lowest indicators of CO2 emissions”); the optimality of the routing of the pipeline corridor is pointed to; it is underscored that of waste products there will be but soil. They even attached the correspondence between the designers – OOO «Piter Gaz» – and the organs of state. For example, an inquiry to environmental watchdog agency «Rosprirodnadzor»: “We ask you to furnish information about … especially protected territories, rare kinds of plants and animals found on the lot, …as well as about materials on background radioactive and chemical contaminations.” Reply: “On the lot being inquired about, there are no especially protected territories”. Please note: not a word in the reply about plants, animals, or background contamination.From other replies and conclusions: no useful minerals; no monuments of culture and architecture; there are fish, however economic activity of low intensiveness; there is the factor of inconveniencing birds, but only of a local character… And so on and so forth……The hearings themselves took place in the building of the administration of the municipal formation of Vyborg Rayon. A small hall, into which around 50 people were squeezed in. At the table – representatives of the local power and representatives of Nord Stream AG: advisor for community relations Irina Vasilieva, expert on UN conventions Nikolai Grishin, manager for the Russian sector Boris Feygin, head engineer of the project for ecology Grigory Vilchek, as well as the head engineer of OOO «PiterGaz», Gennady Grudnitsky.komanda1204.jpgRepresentatives of the project at the hearing (L-R): Irina Vasilieva, Nikolai Grishin, Boris Feygin, Grigory Vilchek (Photo by Grigory Pasko)On the eve of the session it was reported to me that not all the rooms in the building of the administration had electricity. They ran a long extension cord into the room where the hearings were taking place, and, just in case, they also brought a bag full of candles. The bag lay at the feet of a young woman who was writing down the names of all who came on a sheet of paper. (My ecologist friend joked: If they’ve registered us in the capacity of participants, that means they’ll say later that we had approved of the entire project. His clairvoyance was uncanny: After the hearings, a representative of the administration of Vyborg Rayon attempted to do just this.) They put one candle in a glass on the table. The candle stood on the table… Like in Boris Pasternak’s poem “Winter Night”:It snowed, it snowed, the whole world over,Snow swept the world from end to end.A candle burned on the table,A candle burned…svecha1204.jpg(Photo by Grigory Pasko)Only this candle wasn’t burning, which created the impression that it had always just been there: under the tsar, during the revolution, the civil and patriotic wars… And in all this I could clearly see the symbolism of Russia: people sitting around a table discussing plans for deliveries of huge volumes of Russian gas abroad, while they themselves don’t even have any electricity. Here’s Russia and its famous “enigmatic soul” for you…