Riverside Oil Depot Sparks Environmental Concerns in Abkhazia

The construction of an oil depot close to the Bzipi River in the Gagra district has ignited environmental concerns in Russian-occupied Abkhazia.

The public seemingly learned about the depot— reportedly in development for two years — after a March 18 report in a local Telegram channel, alleging that the construction company had not considered the environmental impact of the project.

The revelation stirred anger over the secrecy and alleged negligence towards the local environment.

“I very much hope that this [report] is disinformation. Otherwise you are digging your own grave or went completely crazy,” Abkhaz activist Asida Kortua said on Facebook.

“Everything related to the topic of oil is very important. We have a unique ecosystem, mountains, the sea, this is the only resource we really have today, and it must be preserved,” she told RFE/RL’s Russian language service Ekho Kavkaza later on March 21.

Kortua also doubted the project would benefit the public, claiming everything in the region “goes into the private ownership of one of the superiors.”

The depot is constructed by a local firm, Bzyb Terminal, under the supervision of a Turkish inspection and quality control company PGM, which also collaborates with Russian contractors, according to an Abkhaz TV report of March 19.

The project envisages constructing 16 storage facilities to stockpile petrol for Abkhaz company Apsny Oil. However, others would also be allowed to use the depot services, as the leadership assured.

Director of Bzyb Terminal, Beslan Blabba, refuted with Abkhaz TV the initial claims that the construction was for an oil refinery, noting that the company is building nothing other than storage facilities are in the area.

Blabba argued that locals did not oppose the works and further insisted the project would also help local infrastructure – roads, electricity supply, and fire safety.

Yet, Kortua, the local activist, remained unconvinced. She took an issue with the Abkhaz TV report, arguing that it shied away from asking difficult questions about the worries of the public.

“How can the depot threaten the environment – what sort of pollution could it [cause]? Should it be built exactly in the place where the river flows into the sea?” she asked. “We have not heard the answers to these questions.”

Kortua maintained that information about the project such as the oil depot should be public from the very beginning, going on to stress the need to consult the public, including environmentalists about the planned construction.

Chair of the Abkhaz “state committee for ecology,” Saveliy Chitanava, told Ekho Kavkaza that no companies involved in the construction had reached out to learn their opinion. The committee has neither issued any permits for the project, he said.

But he explained that the construction site was previously an industrial base for reinforced concrete production, and it is merely undergoing a change in the “character of the work.”

While saying the company would need to address the committee to receive their assessment on the reorganization, he reassured the site “lies around 500 meters from the riverbank – in general, there is no particular catastrophe there.”

Chair of “parliamentary committee on agrarian policy,” Astamur Tarba also admitted to Ekho Kavkaza that he and his colleagues learned about the construction from social media.

He maintained the company did not need the legislature’s permit to carry out the work. But expressed concerns over its proximity with the river. “We will study all materials” regarding the matter, he said.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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