HISTORY OF THE PROJECT SKI RESORT “KOK-ZHAILAU” presented by journalist Vadim Boreiko on the fergananews.com website. It is strongly recommended to read to anyone who wants to systematize the story of Kok-Zhailau in his head
“The history of attempts to build a resort in a mountain valley is long and sad. Its roots go back as far as the mid-1980s. On February of 2012, Aset Isekeshev, then Minister of Industry and New Technologies, announced that at Kok-Zhailau is going to be built a ski resort with public investment in the amount of 1 billion 120 million tenge (at the rate of that year approximately $750 million). In the same year, by the order of the Kazakh government, the Canadian company “Ecosign” prepared the “System Development Plan for the Alpine Ski Area of the City of Almaty”, listing and describing locations for numerous possible locations for the resorts. Moreover, the Kok-Zhailau plateau was identified as the worst option: most of the tracks for skiers are short and “black”, that is, extreme for skiing. Canadian experts recommended other places – in the area of Kaskelen and Turgen. However, these settlements are located in the outskirts of Almaty region, and they wanted to build a resort in the city limits. A “regional egoism” worked, so under the former mayor, Akhmetzhan Yesimov, in 2013, the development of a feasibility study for the construction of the ski resort with the carrying capacity of ten thousand people per day and a scattering of cottages throughout the valley began. The intentions of the city authorities to urbanize the natural pearl were caused by the protests of “green”, public activists and simple proactive citizens, who then were few. At the beginning of Spring 2014 in Berlin, at the international tourist exhibition ITB 2014, the ski resort “Kok-Zhailau” was awarded with the anti-prize “Rusty Nail” for instability in tourism. Sochi was awarded the same anti-award for catastrophic environmental and social problems during the preparation of the Olympic Games. The Egyptian beach resort of Hurghada was “awarded” the same prize for the destruction of the unique coastline and coral reefs and the 2014 Algarve circuit. On May 5, 2014, public hearings on the project were held at the international complex of ski jumps “Sunkar”, and there was not enough space for all opponents of construction in the tight assembly hall. In the summer of the same year, in the lower part of the valley, in specially protected natural areas (SPNAs) of the Ile-Alatau State National Natural Park, the construction of an electrical substation began without prior arrangement, a foundation pit was dug and poured. According to the testimony of the Ph.D of Geography Alexander Khoroshev, who works at the geographical faculty of Moscow State University, this substation is comparable in size and capacity to that erected for the Olympics in the resort area of Sochi: it can provide a small city with electricity. “On December 2, 2014, a government decree was issued, to which 1002 hectares of the tract were transferred from the national park to the reserve lands of the city for the construction of a ski resort. At that time, Almaty competed for the right to accept the 2020 Winter Olympics, and Kok-Zhailau was planned to be adapted to be the resort for the Olympic Village. In February 2015, the city was visited by the IOC delegation and peremptorily demanded to exclude tract from the options for the Olympic facilities. Heaven pasture was removed from the Olympic agenda, but the project itself was suspended only by the end of the year: in 2014-2015 several devaluations of the national currency took place in Kazakhstan (Kazakh tenge collapsed in two years from 150 to almost 340 per US dollar), and the application for the construction of the ski resort did not get into the 2016 governmental budget. However, by that time, the city’s treasury had already “buried” in it over 8 billion tenge (or $ 36 million at the average annual rate of 2015), according to the vice-mayor of Almaty, Rumil Tafikov: for a feasibility study, design and estimate documentation, construction of substation, sewage, gas networks. Early last summer, the Compliance Committee of the Aarhus Convention (“On Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters”), ratified by Kazakhstan, issued a decision condemning the construction of a resort in Ile-Alatau. The park says that in 2014 the requirements of the convention were violated: the development plan for the ski resorts in Almaty agglomeration was adopted without public discussion. In 2017, the project was reborn. The Mayor of the city of Almaty, Baurzhan Baybek said that the resort will become more environmentally friendly and will be “optimized”: costs will drop to $200 million, the building area will decrease several times, the capacity will be double, up to 5,000 people a day. Defenders of Kok-Zhailau reasonably considered that it would not matter if they added ten spoons of tar or five to the barrel of honey — it would still be a barrel of tar. And they again began to “make a wave” and sound the alarm in the press, and mainly on social networks, and collect signatures of the petition against the resort. Only few users of the social media publicly voted for the construction. Supporters of the resort tried to hide because of the high reputational risks of being known as “nature destroyers”. Project lobbyists, including those representing the city administration, pursued a policy of marginalization: publicly and in the mass media sources called “green” “screamers”, “tub-thumper”, “hype seekers”, even “a close club of users of the tract,” Nail Nurov, director of the quasi-state Almaty Mountain Resorts LLP (AMR), the project management company established by the city tourism department, which is a unit of the mayor’s office (municipality), succeeded especially in this business. The development of a new feasibility study was conducted from November 2017 by a temporary consortium of AMR and general designer GeoData Plus LLP, headed by Lyudmila Kuznetsova. Behind the design process a train of violations of law and contractual obligations, as well as scandals, stretched. The deadlines for the feasibility study shifted three times – from late April to mid-June, then to early fall. As a result, instead of five months, the work on the feasibility study took ten. Infinitely changing the parameters of the resort and even its concept. It turned out that the resort, which began to be designed as a ski resort, turned out to be an all-season mountain resort, and these are two big differences. Declaring openness and transparency, in fact, the akimat hid information about the project. For the first time, the pictures of the future resort were seen by journalists and members of the public only on May 31 at the presentation of the concept. A website of AMR – kokjailau.kz – was launched only in early August. “Cherry on the cake” in the preparation of the project was a lawsuit filed by general designer Lyudmila Kuznetsova in relation to a consortium partner – AMR. In the claims she accused the defendant of incompetence, inaction, failure to pay money for the work done, failure to provide the original documents. Among these documents were acts of title to the land of the resort and its associated sites. They should be with the designer before the start of work, but the feasibility study was handed over on September 17-19 to the customer, the tourism department, without them. And some are not ready so far. The culmination of the civil process in the economic court was the statement of Lyudmila Kuznetsova: she accused AMR’s Director Nail Nurov, that he, at the beginning of joint activities, demanded a “kickback” in the amount of 20 million tenge. (For information: the development of a feasibility study costs about 200 million tenge, or about $ 600 thousand at the date of the conclusion of the contract.) In my memory, this is the first time that, regarding the “kickback”, the rubble was taken out of the hut. However, the first court instance rejected the claim in full. It the akimat, they did not deal with such a serious statement as well. Supporters of the resort continued to repeat the theses on the need for the development of civilized tourism and to press on its multiplicative effect. Their opponents agreed: please build a resort, but in a different, more suitable place, and leave Kok-Zhailau alone. As the project gained fame scandalous, the number of his opponents multiplied. They signed an online petition against construction. And stocked expert arguments confirming their position. And experts say that the project does not take into account many risks – economic, social, environmental: the territory of the resort is located on a tectonic fault in a 9-10-point seismic zone; there is a high mudflow and avalanche danger here; cutting down trees will worsen the air condition in Almaty, already suffering from smog, etc. On October 18, members of the Save Kok-Zhailiau initiative group held a roundtable in Astana with the participation of Alexander Khoroshev, a Moscow scholar, and Valere Thiolle, a British sustainable tourism expert, where they invited representatives of the government, parliament, public organizations, and journalists. Many media outlets wrote about the event, and the purely Almaty theme received a republican tone. Initially, the akimat was going to hold public hearings on the resort’s project on a weekday on October 19 and on the outskirts of the city, in the Algabas microdistrict, where it is difficult to get. All this was done in order to minimize the participation of activists. Then, with the wording “under the pressure of public opinion”, the public hearings were transferred on Sunday, November 4, to the center of Almaty, to the spacious hall of the Kazakhstan Hotel for 500 people.Two hours before the start, groups of students and teachers, supporters of the resort crowded in the hotel lobby. However, during the event, their civic consciousness declined: many either left the hearings, or slept peacefully. However, the head of the tourism department, Maksat Kikimov, who opened the meeting, made a goodwill gesture to the Kok-Zhailau defenders, thanking Vadim Boreyko, Azhar Dzhandosov, Sergey Kuratov, Saltanat Tashimov for civic activism and concern for the fate of the tract. Of course, it was a diplomatic move, but in such matters rhetoric is also important. In his own words, the Akimat representative officially distanced himself from the marginalization of “the Greens” and in fact legitimized them. However, the hearings were held with serious violations. Not all the feasibility studies were discussed, but only a part of it – Pre EIA, a preliminary assessment of the environmental impact of construction. Economic calculations, social aspects, marketing, cost estimates, etc. were left behind the discussion. I myself (Vadim Boreiko) as a journalist have been closely involved in the topic of Kok-Zhailau since the beginning of the year. Published 25 materials on the portal Ratel.kz. After the court closed it in the spring, i continued the investigation on my Facebook page, where i posted about 60 more chapters. They are reprinted on the ecological website “Living.Asia”.In particular, I was able to find out what kind of information is hidden from society. For example, the preliminary estimate of construction and other costs associated with the project is already 89.5 billion tenge, or about $ 230 million. As you can see, the issue price has jumped. And you can be sure that will grow even. The list of staff of the resort – 268 people, without guides and other temporary workers. In other words, the cost of creating one workplace at this facility is approximately 850 thousand dollars. It seems that the Kok-Zhailau valley was confused with Silicon Valley.
Among the speakers voted “for” the resort were members of the ruling Nur Otan political party, national patriots, famous bloggers, actresses, disabled people, and even a clown. I saw this as a kind of message from the organizers of the hearings to the defenders of the natural boundary: yes, we are aware that what is happening here is a clowning, but still draining the project. The “greens” and their sympathizers turned out to be in the minority in comparison with the superior forces of the administrative resource, there were a hundred of them all. But objectively, they prepared better: in spite of the time-law regulations in 3 minutes, they managed to talk about risks and violations. While their opponents supported the resort in general terms, without demonstrating knowledge of the subject matter of the discussion – Pre EIA, although the presidium asked not to deviate from the topic. At times, hearings were converted to the format of a natural slash. The radical wing of the defenders of the tract, despite its scarcity, made a fair noise: they booed and slammed their rivals, did not let them speak, shouted from their seats, and drove the famous film director from the podium. So much harm was done to the common aim: now the building adepts accuse “greens” of hysteria and an attempt to disrupt the hearings of all their opponents, including calm ones, writing expert opinions and making reports. However, supporters of the resort did not remain in debt, calling their vis-a-vis “monkeys” and “zoo”. Anyway after the “land” meetings of 2016, I have not seen such a hot verbal “hack” of supporters and opponents of the government in Kazakhstan, even on an environmental issue. And after it, no one was even taken to the police, which is a precedent. I had the firm conviction that the “greens”, if they did not win, certainly did not give way. Although the project lobbyists at all informational corners assured that “the mind won out in the Kok-Zhailauu dispute”. Svetlana Spatar, Project Manager for the “Green Salvation” Ecological Society, handed over to the hearing secretariat a thick folder with 19,230 signatures against the construction of the resort (as of November 16, 2017, more than 40 thousand signatures were already collected). And literally the next day, a feverish “voluntary-compulsory” collection of signatures “for” the resort began in schools, universities and government institutions of Almaty. Defenders of the tract suspect akimat in the organization of this campaign. On the Internet, the wits troll the city authorities, saying that those “defeated the mind in a dispute over Kok Zhailau”. In the meantime, a week after the hearing, the number of signatories of the petition against the construction site exceeded 30 thousand. And in the Kazakhstani segment of Facebook and Instagram, the hyperchip does not fall: almost every user considers it his duty to express his own attitude to the Kok-Zhailau problem. Now the resort project is awaiting for a comprehensive, private and state environmental impact assessment, which should be completed in February 2019. Then work on the design and estimate documentation (DED), which will take a year. After the environmental impact assessment of the construction site (EIA) is finally ready, it will again be submitted to public hearings. The start of construction is scheduled for 2020. In a word, there is still time for the “greens” to prevent the construction and save the tract. The members of the “Save Kok-Zhailau” initiative group – Almaty residents who have united with the sole purpose: to preserve a unique natural object and return it to the national park, consider building any resort in the Kok-Zhailau tract to be a short-sighted and dangerous decision of the authorities and continue to insist on “zero option “, That is, a complete rejection of the building. They concider the public hearings as illegitimate, demand that their expert opinions to be added to the documents that will be submitted for state examination, and reserve the right to apply to republican state bodies and international organizations. The fight goes on.
WHERE TO SIGN A PETITION AGAINST THE CONSTRUCTION OF KOK-ZHAILAU RESORT://www.petitions247.com/savekokzhailau?utm_source=email