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Grigory Pasko: Traveling the Nord Stream, Part VII

Portovaya Bay – a piece of nature still unspoiled By Grigory Pasko, journalist The starting point for the undersea portion of the North European Gas Pipeline will become a coastal compressor station, which will be built in Portovaya Bay (next to the city of Vyborg of Leningrad Oblast). Along the bed of the Baltic Sea, the right-of-way will be laid to the point of Greifswald on the German coast with a possible branch line to Sweden. Then the pipeline will pass through the territory of Germany and The Netherlands to the point of Bacton in Great Britain. This is the intention of the builders of the pipeline. You and I, dear readers, have already been in Gryazovets, where the North European Gas Pipeline has its source, in Babayevo, and have driven past St. Petersburg and Vyborg. Now our route takes us to – Portovaya Bay. …When my driver and I turned onto the highway leading in the direction of Finland, the sign by the side of the road warned us that we had just entered a border zone. Unlike many, if not most, Russian roads, the roads leading to Finland are distinguished by good quality. Local drivers say it was the Finns who forced the Russian authorities to make the roads like this. However, after the village of Kondratievo, our route lay along a dirt road. Then a forest track, to the village of Bolshoi Bor. Here I asked my driver to stop. The local inhabitants were reluctant to answered all my questions, not just those that had to do with the gas pipeline: apparently, the influence of the border strip was showing itself. Even one of those who mustered up the courage to give an interview stipulated: don’t mention my job. Why?, I asked. This is a secret, was the answer. What can I say? Even as far back as the end of the 1700s, the empress Catherine II [the Great] said: “In Russia, everything is a secret, but nothing is secret.” The person was called Leonid. He looked to be over fifty. He says that he dreams before retirement to get a job at the compressor station that will be built in these parts. Of course, he doesn’t like it that trees are being chopped down in this locale, right next to his house, but he hopes that the ecology will not be greatly disturbed. But in general, he said, the gas pipeline is a good thing. And also, he is confident that the gasmen will certainly connect gas up to rural houses. I didn’t really want to distress the person, but I had no choice, so I told him about how the inhabitants of Babayevo, who have literally been living on top of gas pipelines for 20 years already, don’t get to see this gas in their homes. Leonid’s expression darkened.

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Photo of an inhabitant of the village of Bolshoi Bor who dreams of getting a job at the future compressor station by Grigory Pasko.

After this, we drove in the direction of Portovaya Bay. And so, about 5-6 kilometers past the village of Bolshoy Bor, we’re finally here. Leningrad Oblast. Vyborg Rayon. The Gulf of Finland. Portovaya Bay. The beauty around is indescribable. Birds singing all around us. Virgin forest. Pristine waters. All this will be gone in a few months. Of course the builders will observe ecological norms. But the birds and trees will be gone. And the water will no longer be crystal-clear. There’s no way to avoid this. It’s the flip side of any construction project and just about any advance of modern civilization. It has already been reported in the press that construction is planned in these places of access and technical roads, infrastructure, houses for the workers of the contractor organizations and the specialists who will be servicing the gas pipeline during placement on stream. According to the information of the directorate of construction of the North European Gas Pipeline, the fulfillment of all works is being carried out in precise conformity with the schedule. Modern technologies are being used, which provide for a high quality of laying of the pipeline, including under the Volkhov and Neva rivers. The course of the construction of the North European Gas Pipeline is found on strict control on the part of state supervisory organs and ecological organization. My experience shows that in Russia, the words “strict” and “state” go together only in the event of the handing down of prison sentences to innocent people. They are rarely applicable to the environment.

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Photo of Portovaya Bay by Grigory Pasko. The gas pipeline will come right through here.

The main thing ought to be noted: a conclusive environmental impact assessment of the entire Nord Stream gas pipeline does not exist. If construction – the laying of pipe – is taking place in the vicinity of Babayevo, then in the vicinity of Gryazovets construction has not even begun yet, while in the vicinity of Viborg, engineering-geological surveying and preparation of the right-of-way are being carried out. This is a very large complex of work, which includes measures with respect to ecology and a procedure for assessing the impact on the environment. It must be gone through on two levels – the national and the trans-national, when an expert evaluation of the project will be conducted for its compliance with the Espoo Convention (the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, signed in the Finnish city of Espoo in the year 1991). The actual laying of the pipeline along the bed of the Baltic Sea will begin in 2008. The overall length of the undersea right-of-way of the gas pipeline will comprise around 1200 kilometers; the maximum depth of the water in the places where the pipe will pass is 210 meters. It is known that modern pipe-laying vessels will be employed for the work. There are only four such vessels in the world, that could be employed during construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. They belong to Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, and Russian companies. Representatives of the builders of the pipeline are assuring the public that access for Russian and foreign journalists to construction sites will be open even during the time of conducing assembly work at sea. It is very difficult to believe this, especially after I didn’t even get permission to talk with people servicing compressor stations. But let’s wait and see. Russian territory is one thing, but the Baltic Sea – which, thank goodness, doesn’t belong to Russia alone – is something else.

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Photo of your correspondent enjoying the beauty of Portovaya Bay while he still can by Igor Romankov.

If all goes well, my next series of reports for the blog will be from Germany – from that territory to which the gas pipe is going to come – the city of Greifswald. Until then, auf Wiedersehen!