Residents of the Izmailovo neighborhood in eastern Moscow have rejected a plan for the development of a local forest, and are trying to draw public attention to environmental threats that similar initiatives pose to Moscow’s 15 major conservation areas.
To carry on with their redevelopment program, Moscow authorities need approval after public hearings, which was readily granted for projects in Tushinsky and Bittsevsky forests – though local residents were not notified of the hearings despite a legal requirement that they be informed, Izmailovo activists said.
Residents of the Izmailovo neighborhood have rejected a plan for the development of a local forest
Because of commercial facilities added to the Bittsevsky plan after its approval, project costs have grown from the original 1.47 million rubles ($46,000) to 66.31 million rubles ($2.1 million). New plans for the forest include a metro line, a residential area and sporting facilities.
Anton Kulbachevsky, the head of Moscow’s environmental department, believes that investment in specially protected natural territories should bring in revenue. At a meeting of his department in February 2011, he said that this goal would be achieved through building recreation complexes, sporting facilities and picnic areas in the territories.
Last month, City Hall presented a plan for a third protected territory, in Izmailovo, which authorities hope will see an increased flow of tourists if part of it is turned into a park.
Unlike with the previous two hearings, a dozen activists from the Izmailovo Public Council collected over 2,800 signatures against the plan and brought over 300 residents to their hearings, where the plan was suspended and sent for revision.
An Izmailovo acticist notifies residents about a public hearing
“While they never presented comprehensive paperwork for the project, the draft suggests that there will be a motorway in this forest, since there are tunnels and underpasses marked on the map they provided,” said Nelly Zaripova, a local activist who lives just across the street from the forest.
Izmailovo, one of the largest untouched forests on the city’s territory, is protected by federal environmental legislation, which prohibits any construction in nature reserves. The city’s plans, however, called for commercial facilities and a church to be built in the middle of the woodland.
“The plan presented at public hearings has never been approved by a state environmental commission,” said Galina Morozova, the head of the Moscow Environmental Protection Society. “The size of conservation areas cannot be reduced, while through this project a developer can clearly build sporting and catering facilities in the forest.”
Raising the alarm
Lyudmila Volkova, an expert at the Wildlife Preservation Center, was one of the first activists to raise the alarm over these plans.
“In Moscow, the absence of a need to save species has been taken to an absurd extreme,” Volkova wrote in an article published on the center’s website. “If there are no endangered or at-risk species in the area, then it is considered to have no environmental value and is given to developers.”
She calculates that if the woods and meadows of Izmailovo are turned into lawns, the area’s maintenance costs will increase by more than 20 times.
Elks at risk
New plans for the forest include a metro line, a residential area and sporting facilities
Another conservation area that Moscow authorities plan to develop is in the Losiny Ostrov (Elks’ Island) federal nature reserve, the only place in Moscow inhabited by wild elks. Public hearings for the project, which also calls for a recreational zone, were slated for Aug. 23, but last week were postponed until the fall.
An official from the administration of the Bogorodskoye district, where part of Losiny Ostrov is located, told The Moscow News that City Hall had decided to revise the project and submit it for discussion once locals had returned from vacation. The official added that recreational zones are planned only on the margins of woodland areas, where there are currently several abandoned Soviet-era buildings.
In the meantime, Izmailovo activists are trying to inform Bogorodskoye residents of future public hearings by posting notes on the doors of apartment blocks.