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Conflict in the Russian Arctic: an industrial road for dump trucks may damage the planned Khibiny national park

14 june 2012
The road construction will make futile all efforts for wildlife conservation and environmental tourism development in the region, believes WWF

The Khibiny are the biggest mountains in the North-Western Russia. It’s easy and fast to get there from Russia’s biggest cities in the European part of Russia. For more than 80 years, tourists, schoolchildren and students have been coming here for holidays, summer camps and scientific expeditions. As a result of the long-term environmental and scientific work, the territory of the Khibiny mountains was included in the Russian government’s Concept of national protected area development in 2011. According to this document, the national park is to be created in 2015.

However, simultaneously with the nature conservation work, the Russian Government gave a license for the commercial development of the Apatite-Nepheline deposit “Partomchorr” in the Northern part of the Khibiny to the North-Western Phosphorous Company (NWPC). The conflict flared up because of the road that will be constructed as part of the project for huge dump trucks to transport the ore from the deposit. All variants of the road route, proposed by the company managers, make the creation of the national park senseless.

Few people will enjoy the wildlife listening to the loud noise of dump trucks or looking at the mine tailings instead of the mountain peaks, especially taking into account the Khibiny compactness”, says Oleg Sutkaitis, the Head of WWF-Russia Barents Office.

In May, WWF initiated a meeting in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation. “As a result of the talks, we sent a letter to the Murmansk region Governor and North-Western Phosphorous Company suggesting to find alternative ways for the ore transportation by May 10. But we received no response”, says Oleg Sutkaitis.

The company, which announced its plans to start the road and mine construction this summer, avoids consulting the society or participating in the public discussions of the project. However, according to the NWPC press service, the Norwegian business representatives and Council General of Norway in Murmansk have already discussed potential cooperation with the company in the frame of this project. The Norwegian officials participation is puzzling because support of the NWPC project obviously contradicts the conservation projects in Murmansk region that the Norwegian government has funded for many years. At least, the Norwegian government must make consultations with the Russian public on the project an obligatory condition for the cooperation with NWPC.

The deposit itself and the licensing area are situated out of the planned national park territory, but expected road will cross all tourist paths. Division of the national park area will make the recreation development impossible. Now it’s still possible to combine the interests of nature conservation, tourism and mining industries, before it is too late”, says Igor Chestin, WWF-Russia CEO. “The deposit will be exhausted in 50 years, but the national park can be used for centuries. We insist that the NWPC must present alternative variants for the road location, organize an open discussion with the public, and the Murmansk Government must not lease the area designated for the future national park without the federal Ministry’s permission”.

© Michail Ryzhov
© Michael Ryzhov