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Starting to Work with Slackers

What does the Year of the Environment have in store for the Primorye Territory?

Starting to Work with Slackers
Фото: Ovchinnikova Irina / Shutterstock.com

Also, how best maintain a balance between developing of production facilities, industry, and infrastructure, on the one hand, and protecting the environment and observing environmental standards in construction, production and everyday life, on the other? The Director of the local department for natural resources and environment, Alexander Korshenko, discusses the ecology of the Primorye Territory, areas of concern and points of growth in his interview with EastRussia.

– Mr. Korshenko, inbound tourism is very much on the rise in Primorye, as tourists here are mainly attracted by the area's nature. What are the main natural resources of Primorye that, in your opinion, need especially careful treatment and preservation?

– Based on the ratio between mainland and special conservation areas, the Primorye Territory has now reached the same levels as in Europe. A total of 17% of our territories are under special protection; these are the areas of federal and regional importance. Among them are 11 state nature sanctuaries, 9 reserves, the unique Botanical Garden, the arboretum of the Far East Branch of the Russian Academy of Science, and 204 natural monuments, each of which is unique in its own way. Here visitors can find yew groves and lakes with lotuses and water lilies, Korean pines, a unique coastal taiga, and geological sections such as on Russky Island and in Novgorodskaya and Reid Pallada bays in the south of Khasansky District. The key objective is, of course, to preserve these significant sites for their further use by scientists, researchers and archaeologists.

– What about tourists?

– As for that, eco-tourism is currently developing in a lot of exciting ways, including platforms for unique tour packages that will enjoy popularity not only among foreign nature lovers, but also among domestic tourists from other regions. Primorye has an excellent foundation for the creation of an entire system of eco-tourism. Also, Primorye is one of the few places on the planet that did not endure the glacial period, so it is currently one of the richest regions of the country in terms of the abundance and diversity of its flora and fauna. Our primary task is to preserve these resources. For example, the Arsenyev Station near Ussuriysk or the new Bikin national park we managed to establish after protracted efforts.

– What does that look like – creating a new national park in today's day and age?

– The order on its establishment was signed personally by the Head of the Russian Government. There are many questions regarding Bikin, and the local community is reacting to the initiative with suspicion. They fear that their rights as indigenous minorities may be threatened, that their lives will be harder, that they will be deprived of their hunting areas, and so on. That is why when organizing public discussions, evaluating the project's feasibility, and creating a working group, we took such questions seriously and sent them to the Ministry of Natural Resources to change the law concerning specially protected natural areas. Our proposals were ultimately accepted. Currently, efforts are being made to fulfill the obligations assumed by the Primorye Territory administration and the Ministry of Natural Resources to preserve the rights of indigenous people residing in the Bikin national park to the maximum extent possible. 

– In its time, it was precisely the environmental argument that spurred the transition of the Vladivostok power industry from coal to gas. This gasification was completed a year ago. How do you assess the results for the city and its residents?

– In general, the pollution indicators for the region have been showing a downwards tendency. First of all, this is due to the reconstruction of CHP Plant-1 and CHP Plant-2 in Vladivostok and their transition to gas, as well as the modernization of the boiler facilities in Ussuriysk. This resulted in an overall reduction of pollutant emissions by 22.3% according to the official data.

I can say with confidence, and this is reflected in the annual report from 2015, that all environmental indicators in the region are stable, within the norm and show no signs of deterioration. This report was made with the participation of all federal authorities, both supervisory and licensing bodies, including Rospotrebnadzor, Rosrybolovstvo and Primgidromet, and a number of other organizations. In statistical terms, the results of state environmental quality monitoring evidence that the air and water contamination levels are stable. But at the same time, the rivers and soils in residential areas are most affected and show signs of deterioration.

– What about waste byproducts?

– The key sources of pollution are mineral mining companies, companies that produce and distribute electricity, gas and water, and processing companies that account for 95% of low-hazard waste, such as overburden rock, ash and slag waste, sludge, etc. Solid municipal waste from households accounts for a maximum 2.15% of the total waste structure. But it demonstrates a growing tendency of 2-3% per year on average. For now, however, the recycling of solid household waste does not exceed 13%.

– Will processing develop in the future?

– This area has attained a certain degree of progress and development among companies operating in the region with pre-existing experience in the practical selective collection and recycling of waste. For example, there are investors interested in establishing production facilities for a two-level plastics recycling program. The first level involves grinding the raw plastic materials, thus obtaining flake fractions. Such products are in high demand in the Asia-Pacific Region. At the second level, import substitution products are manufactured, such as Decking wood polymer planks. Geowebs, geomeshes, and plastic fittings can also be produced, which are currently enjoying great demand on the market.

– Are you currently taking any systematic measures to advance waste recycling in Primorye?

– We have completed development of the territorial waste recycling program as part of the state Environmental Protection in the Primorye Territory for 2013-2017 program. Based on the results of this program, we determined the key parameters of the waste treatment system in the Primorye Territory. We also identified the location of intermunicipal complexes for the recycling and utilization of solid household waste. These platforms will in effect be used for specialized investment projects, such as the processing of plastics, wood and other kinds of secondary raw materials. We also plan to form a network of industrial parks focused on the effective use of recyclable materials. The Primorye Territory already has a company for the production of construction materials with the addition of household waste, which is completely unique in the Russian context.

– What are the prospects for sewage disposal facilities? Over the last year, much has been said about the clean state of Zolotoy Rog Bay. Have you found any specific mechanisms on how to clean up the Free Port of Vladivostok?

– We are cooperating with a number of specialized organizations on this matter. This water area is of federal importance, but the business activities on shore and offshore are carried out by the city. This means that we are also responsible for cleaning up what was being rather aggressively contaminated for some 150 years.

Environmental experts say that creating a Free Port in Primorye that includes its southern coastal areas requires a more clearly defined plan and measures to protect the offshore zones of the Gulf of Peter the Great. First and foremost, we will be focusing on the Zolotoy Rog Bay, which is of course in a rather poor condition. This issue is immediately controlled by our Governor and we are working actively to remediate the situation. This July, a federal law was adopted defining what is meant by 'accumulated harm' and 'harmful objects', and also determining the participants of environmental harm objects. During a sea floor investigation a detailed calculation will be made of the contamination volumes, which will be used later to make a cost estimate. We also have some good news as well: waste water volumes are gradually reducing. This is thanks to the gradual commissioning of sewage disposal facilities in Vladivostok. Moreover, decreases in the volumes of contaminated waste water can also be attributed to the introduction of automated accounting methods.

– Tell us about some environmental projects and the Nature without Borders Forum. What are its goals and key objectives?

– The investment projects implemented by major companies in Primorye, including in pursuance of federal laws on priority development areas and the Free Port of Vladivostok, will require information transparency among businesses regarding environmental and ecological security. It is also an excellent opportunity for business representatives to be heard by the public and the environmental community through their participation in such large-scale events as the International Nature without Borders Environmental Forum. For ten years, the south of Primorye has changed in many significant ways and continues to develop rapidly. The task before forum participants is clear — find the balance between developing natural resources and preserving the unique nature of the Far East. Our common goal is to preserve the biodiversity of the Primorye Territory and the Far East, while at the same time developing the region's production facilities in accordance with strict international environmental standards.

The forum, which has already become an annual event for Primorye, focuses on the most fundamental issues. We want our people to live and work in Primorye, and well understand that this can be achieved only by making environmental issues a priority and improving the quality of life of every citizen. That is exactly why the position of our Governor remains unchanged. A great deal of attention must be paid to the environmental education of our children and youth. I believe the academic community, mass media and environmental community can provide serious assistance in the environmental education of the population.

Among the participants are also many business representatives. This is good news, as it makes the forum an ideal platform to build a working dialogue between the government, science, business, and civil communities. This dialogue is currently flowing well and providing good results. For example, I would like to mention that more and more production companies coming to our region are listening to the opinion of the academic community and environmental organizations, and this is a fact.

– 2017 has been declared the Year of the Environment. Do you have any plans or projects in this respect? How are you feeling as you transition into the new year?

– Here we are dealing with two key vectors: developing a national park system and protecting the environment in general. And also working with environmental "slackers". Now, increased attention is going to be paid to environmental compliance. At the same time, for responsible companies working to protect the environment and paying due attention to environmental matters this year will, on the contrary, open up additional opportunities and incentives for them to switch to more efficient models of management. We will continue to increase an appreciation for environmental culture among the local people, with a special focus on the younger generation. The Department, together with the Russian Geographic Community—the Amur Region Research Society (OIAK), has organized a regional lecture series on environmental protection and the rational use of natural resources. This is a series of educational and scientific lectures on preserving the unique natural heritage of the Primorye Territory, environmental tourism in specially protected natural areas, and the rational use of natural resources, which was established to increase the knowledge base of tourist operators.