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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“Pirates” of Lake Donuzlav

Ecologists demand ban on sand extraction, a thriving illicit business since 1965
24 April, 2007 - 00:00

SYMFEROPOL-Lake Donuzlav can only be described as a long- suffering ecological site. Its history is packed with dramatic events. Since the lake has a depth of 20 meters, in the first half of the 20th century there were plans to build a deep-water seaport here. These plans were never carried through.

After the Second World War the Soviet military took an interest in the western part of the Crimea, and the Black Sea Fleet built an anti-submarine naval air base at the lake. This project had negative consequences for the development of the Crimea, primarily because all the land north of Yevpatoria had been preserved in a near-virgin state because it was a restricted area of military security. Practically nothing was built here, and access was permitted only through checkpoints, with pass cards.

The military used the lake as a water airfield, which damaged the environment. The number of fish in the lake diminished, and there were practically no mussels to be found. The shortcut across the dam was soon cordoned off, so tourists have to circle the lake, adding 50 km to their journey. However, after the division of the Black Sea Fleet the military withdrew from Balaklava (the site of a submarine base) and from Lake Donuzlav, with its anti- submarine naval air base.

The issue of building a deep-sea port once again appeared on the agenda. Edicts ordering the development of this project were issued first by President Leonid Kuchma and then by President Viktor Yushchenko. Thanks to mounting protests by environmentalists demanding that the western part of the Crimea be preserved as an exclusive resort area rather than a polluted industrial one, President Yushchenko abolished the earlier edicts. The seaport project was halted.

While this beautiful virgin spot in the Crimea awaits development as a resort area, scientists and politicians keep churning out new “wonders.” At one time the former Prime Minister of the Crimean Autonomy, Anatolii Matvienko, was planning a “golf city” in the vicinity, but luckily he was relieved of his post before he could do any damage. The current Crimean authorities are planning a resort complex in the area, and the land will be owned by a special economic association.

Ecologically harmful activity has always taken place at Lake Donuzlav. During the construction boom in the Crimea in the mid- 1960s, the Port of Yevpatoria began extracting top-quality yellow sand from the lake. This sand was the best raw material in the district for the production of concrete. In Soviet times the authorities were not concerned about the environment, and the practice of issuing licenses did not exist.

Times have changed. Now that sea transport has been reduced to a minimum, sand extraction appears to be the port’s main line of business. Naturally, this runs counter to its designated purpose. It has learned that the sand extraction business, practiced for more than 40 years, is illegal.

Crimean scientists and ecologists are still arguing about whether the extraction of natural resources — the way it is being done at Donuzlav — is damaging the environment on the peninsula. For a number of years scientists have said that extracting sand from a single place in the Crimea will cause sand migration because nature abhors a vacuum, so every pit will be filled with sand carried by water from a different place. This explains why the sea is constantly eroding the Crimean coastline, swallowing several meters a year in certain areas.

In the 1970s the Institute of Hydromechanics at the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR carried out special studies of marine sand migration and reported that sand extraction at Lake Donuzlav, a basin separated from the sea, was not the cause of the erosion of the Crimean shoreline. In 1991 the Chornomorproekt Institute carried out its own investigation and arrived at a similar conclusion.

Another problem is that the bottom of the Black Sea around the Crimean peninsula has never been stable because the beaches are regularly cleaned, navigation channels are deepened for ships approaching the ports, and silt is removed. No one is sure how all this affects the erosion of the shoreline. It will take years of studies to get to the bottom of this.

The first question prompted by the results of these scientific studies is: Should the extraction of sand at Lake Donuzlav be allowed to continue? “It can be allowed, but only on a lawful basis — in other words, after doing the required paperwork and obtaining authorization and other regulatory documents,” says Yevhen Bubnov, chairman of the Republican Natural Resources Committee of the Crimea.

The committee’s statistics show that there are four organizations that own sand extraction licenses issued by Ukraine’s Ministry of the Environment. The first is the Port of Yevpatoria with a license that is valid until 2016. The other holders of ministry licenses are private businesses: SandInterMarine, Southern Investment Company, and the construction directorate of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. This is totally incomprehensible to Yevhen Mykhailiv, Deputy Prime Minister of the Crimea, inasmuch as foreign companies are allowed to use Ukraine’s natural resources only if they follow special procedures.

These three organizations were granted mining leases by the Crimean authorities, but the Port of Yevpatoria doesn’t have one. However, this document is not enough to obtain permission to extract sand. Under the Water Code of Ukraine, such business entities must have leases issued by the Water Resources Inventory. Bubnov says that all these users of natural resources “do not have documentation establishing titles to areas of the Water Resources Inventory.” Because of this, starting in 2003, various ecological organizations resolved to prohibit the extraction of sand. It was stopped by all parties except the Port of Yevpatoria, which has fewer authorizations than the other entities.

“The port cannot stop extracting sand,” says director Pavlo Chypizubov. “First of all, it’s the port’s main line of business today; stopping it would mean lots of pink slips and the stoppage of payments to other employees. Second, sand extracted by the Port of Yevpatoria is being supplied to practically every large building company in the Crimea, so they would also stop operating. Third, the Crimea has no other deposits of sand that can be used to produce top-quality concrete, so this kind of sand would have to be delivered from the mainland and this would involve heavy expenditures.”

“The port has used this argument for many years, which is delaying the drafting of documents required by the law,” says Oleh Rusetsky, chairman of the Crimea’s Parliamentary Commission for Environmental Protection. “These arguments are not convincing. We can find sand elsewhere; after all, other organizations can extract it on lawful grounds.”

Volodymyr Dosynchuk, Deputy Mayor of Yevpatoria, believes that “the port should be allowed to extract as an exception to the rule, but it must be obliged to do the required paperwork as soon as possible.” His opinion is supported by the Chornomorsk raion administration of the Crimea, which has jurisdiction over one of the banks of Lake Donuzlav. They say that the port is one of the main taxpayers, so if it stops extracting sand, the district will lose a significant amount of tax.

Chornomorsky raion has another argument. Its records show that once the official extraction of sand stops at Donuzlav, a number of small construction businesses will start collecting it from beaches and shallows, and transporting it by truck, in sacks, and even on motorcycles.

Despite all these arguments, the State Azov-Black Sea Ecological Inspectorate banned sand extraction at the port as of Jan. 3, 2007. The port challenged it simultaneously in two courts. Both overrode the ecologists’ ban. Then the Crimean Court of Appeals overrode the rulings of the lower courts and the ban went into effect. In February 2007 sand extraction at Donuzlav was prohibited by Directives 4 and 5 of the Chief State Inspectorate of Ukraine for Environmental Protection. The port stopped extracting sand, but the matter was raised by a commission of the Council of Ministers of the Crimea in charge of monitoring lawful allocations of land, and prospecting and developing natural resources. The commission confirmed the ban, but port director Chypizubov believes that the Crimean parliamentary commission is deliberately putting off processing his documents, and he has not received an official response in two months. Commission chairman Oleh Rusetsky countered by stating that the documents supplied by the port are in a format other than required by the law, so the commission cannot make a decision.

The Deputy Prime Minister of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea has this to say: “Be that as it may, the Port of Yevpatoria does not have the legally required documents — as is the case with the other users of natural resources — so our commission cannot tolerate the piratical usage of the Crimea’s natural wealth; hence its decision to ban sand extraction at Donuzlav. Once they produce valid arguments, they will be issued all the required authorizations and will be welcome to resume sand extraction.”

According to Chypizubov, the commission hasn’t solved the problem. “The Crimea won’t last long without sand for concrete work; beaches will start being looted, and there will be more ecological damage.”

Another vicious circle may be in the offing.