Op-ed: Saving polluted S. Ossetian river
S. Ossetian ecology suffers from inert material extraction beds
“Crushers” – quarries for the extraction of crushed stone and sand along the main river of South Ossetia, although they bring flatter to the economy, have become a real disaster from an environmental point of view. Journalist, blogger and entrepreneur Alan Parastaev talks about the problem, talking to environmentalists and entrepreneurs.
South Ossetian ‘crushers’
‘Crushers’ is how we call small enterprises for the extraction of inert materials – here it’s pebble or river ballast mined by excavators and bulldozers. For transportation and feeding, belt conveyors and dump trucks are used. Most importantly within such enterprises machines and units for crushing, that is, for the direct production of finished crushed stone, sand, and screening are used.
Such extraction beds are located along the river, where a production site and a storage area for finished products are arranged right on the riverbank in the form of giant, tens of meters high, embankments.
At the beginning of the implementation of the program for the reconstruction of South Ossetia after the 2008 war which was fully undertaken by the Russian Federation, practically all products produced on crushers were imported from Russia.
Observing endless rows of trailers and wagons loaded with giant packets of sand or screenings and dump trucks with rubble, citizens naturally wondered – why don’t we produce it all ourselves, instead of buying it from North Caucasus, or even further away? Why are we losing jobs that migrant workers from Central Asia have already occupied in the construction sector? After all, we live among the mountains of stone.
But our own production facilities never appeared as we only have the ones which remained from the Soviet era, and could satisfy only a small fraction of the required volume.
In my opinion, this situation was dictated by the general trend in the implementation of the restoration program, in which, according to some tacit agreement, purchases were made taking into account the interests of the key participants in this program. These interests were lying in the purchase of rubble outside South Ossetia. But this is just my version.
With the beginning of a new stage of the program to help our republic – already directed at investments, enterprises for the production of crushed stone began to appear, one after another. Today we have more than a dozen such quarries along the Liakhva – the main South Ossetian waterway.
The solution to one problem gave rise to another, no less acute – the ecological one. Like any other industrial production, crushers are harmful to nature.
Ecologists explain the harm from the crushers as follows: they violate the ecological balance of the floodplain of the river bed, “destroy the intricate relationships between flora and fauna and minerals, which has been created for centuries at the bottom of rivers”.
In other words, microorganisms and even mineral elements are necessary components for the growth of algae and other flora objects, which in turn is a habitat for insects, crustaceans, and the like. Both are food for small animals, amphibians, fish, mammals, including our legendary brook rainbow trout and brown bear. It is a complex natural pyramid that can easily be destroyed by an excavator bucket.
Well, the second aspect after the ecological one is even more dramatic, I would even say catastrophic and it concerns geology. The young mountains of the Caucasus abound in tectonic faults and karst caves. In general, as experts explain, we can get to the place where the crevice will open and the water will leak out, if only partially and not completely, into any cave, and from there into the crack, and will flow out, wherever for many kilometers. Or maybe it won’t.
Of course, we must not forget that crushers simply take places along our river Leuahi. These are the same floodplain forests, favorite places for many animals – bears, deer, badgers and roe deer, nesting places for birds, including the red-listed river sparrow – dippers.
Crushers displace people from river banks. Who doesn’t enjoy spending time by the river, having picnics, and swimming in the neighborhood of clanking and growling, smoking, and dusty industrial production and against the backdrop of a disfigured ravaged mountain river bed?
Save Leuahi river
This is not the first year that the residents of South Ossetia have been worried, however, authorities have already taken several attempts to address the problem. Since December 2018, under public pressure, the issuance of licenses for the extraction of river ballast has been suspended.
However, the owners and directors of crushers, from time to time, find loopholes in the law and somehow persuade the departments to issue them temporary development permits and loader drives continue to hum, and cobblestones break with a crash.
This summer, activists of the environmental organization Green Ossetia filed a lawsuit and issued a statement addressing the prosecutor’s office to check the legality of the crushers.
Environmentalists understand that gravel, sand, screening is necessary for the republic, but such a volume that is being removed today is simply killing the river. Maybe the Volga or even the Don, could withstand such a load and could be restored, but not Liakhva, with its small debit and fragile ecostructure.
“If we could jointly establish production rates, the problem could, if not be solved completely, then at least slightly dulled in its severity”, this is how the manager of one of such enterprises sees a way out of the situation.
Environmentalists also enjoy the public’s support, people are tired of the noise and clanking next to their beloved river, from its pollution and the impossibility of staying on its banks. There are agreements with many concerned citizens that they will report the facts of illegal work on crushers.
The Environmental Committee informed the ecologists that it has long been planning to assess the damage caused to the environment by the crushers and to claim compensation for damage from the owners. Otherwise, the state will have to pay for this damage. But first, of course, it is necessary to reduce the number of crushers and production volumes.
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