Renovating historic St. Petersburg helps to clean up the Baltic

September 25, 1997|By Thomas Land

ST. PETERSBURG -- A $180 million shipping infrastructure master plan to revitalize the seaport of this great city, Russia's main outlet to the Baltic Sea, is acting as a magnet for growing investment.

Privatization and the decline of the obsolete industries in the former communist-dominated countries around the highly polluted Baltic are already reflected in the slow but significant recovery of the sensitive marine ecosystem.

Funds for the harbor extension and privatization scheme are being raised by the port and city authorities, the Russian government and various banks. The lion's share of the scheme is to double the port's throughput from 10.5 million tons of cargo to 18 million tons by the turn of the century.

The development, which has just begun, includes the acquisition of state-of-the-art loading equipment, the construction of a container, a bulk cargo and a refrigerator terminal and the modernization of timber handling facilities.

Additional investment will result in a substantial improvement in telecommunications, as well as the rescue of the rapidly deteriorating architecture and monuments of historic St. Petersburg and a reduction of industrial pollution.

Pollution reduced

The Helsinki Commission for the Protection of the Baltic Marine Environment has recorded a significant decline of pollution reaching the sea, due largely to the demise of the notoriously inefficient industries of the old Soviet economy. The development of St. Petersburg, hitherto one of the most fearsome polluters, will intensify the cleanup.

St. Peterburg's harbor privatization program results, in part, from the inability of central government to pay its bills. Nearly a third of the ownership of the port was transferred to the city administration earlier this year by the federal government, in lieu of budgetary support.

Governor Vladimir Yakovlev says the city is prepared to consider every serious offer to turn the shares into cash. The government still owns 20 per cent of the shares; the rest belong to 500 other shareholders, including 10 corporate investors.

The government of Tataristan -- a Russian internal republic -- is just one of many potential investors to have expressed an intention of securing an interest in port. The Tatars would like to use St. Petersburg as a transshipment point serving a fleet of eight river-sea tankers which they are about to build for the regional oil production concern Tatneft.

Peterstar, the Russian-Canadian joint venture, is to build a fiber-optic communication network for St. Petersburg this year. A fiber-optic cable built by Rostelecom, the national long distance operator, linking St. Petersburg with the capital of Moscow will be opened very soon.

The World Bank will lend $31 million for preserving the historical heart of St. Petersburg. The program will finance consultancy services to develop, design, engineer and administer the renovation program, clarify property rights, reform city planning and make the business environment more competitive.

Another World Bank project calls for the renovation of neglected water and drainage networks of several key Russian cities, including St. Petersburg.

Hot spot

With its 5 million inhabitants, many factories and inadequate sewage treatment facilities, St. Petersburg is one of the 132 pollution hot spots in the Baltic (35 of them in the West and the rest in formerly communist-dominated Europe) identified by the regional environmental watchdog as in need of urgent attention.

The Helsinki Commission says hundreds of metal-finishing enterprises regularly discharge their pollutants into the city's sewers. Apart from directly polluting the Baltic, these discharges disturb treatment processes and municipal sewage works and contaminate the sludge produced there. But the privatization of state-owned enterprises in the former Soviet Union and its neighbors has already led to measurable decreases in industrial pollution.

The commission report describes the remarkable 50 percent reduction in phosphate and nitrate pollution of the southern Baltic. Dietwart Nehring, of the German Institute for Baltic Research, who contributed to the report, says the improvement has been so dramatic "I dare hardly tell the world about it."

The progressive recovery of the virtually enclosed Baltic Sea -- whose abused environment was written off before the breakup of Soviet power seven years ago as a victim of communist central planning virtually beyond rescue -- is due to the introduction of waste treatment plants as well as tougher emission controls.

Cadmium and copper levels have decreased in the Baltic by about 6 percent annually. There have been steady decreases in PCBs, DDT and hexachlorocyclohexane levels, although they are still several times higher in the Baltic than in the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.


The Helsinki Commission -- comprising Denmark, Estonia, the European Union as a whole, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and Russia -- now intends to phase out discharges of all hazardous substances in the next quarter-century. The ultimate aim of the organization is to fTC achieve "close to zero concentrations for man-made synthetic substances" in the marine environment.

Thomas Land writes about global affairs.

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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