On Monday July 20, the Governor of the Altai Republic, Alexander Berdnikov, approved the development plan of the Chemal region in the Altai Republic. This seemingly unimportant event is of considerable significance for the environmental health and safety of Chemal. The exclusion of the Katun Dam project from the Chemal development plan is going to save 770 hectares of vital land. This land contains critical habitats for rare and endangered plant and animal species, local fisheries, as well as hundreds of residential areas along Katun River that provide employment to local communities.
On March 18th, Berdnikov made an official statement that the region needed alternatives to the proposed Katun Dam to combat the lack of energy generating capacity in the Altai Republic . The Altai gasification project was completed in 2008, bringing a major pipeline from Barnaul to Gorno-Altaisk and now project developers are working on designs for a 96 megawatt gas-fired power plant in Maima. Berdnikov said that a plant in Maima could be a potential alternative to the dam. “It is a possibility that the hydro-electric dam construction does not make economic sense. We do not have a goal to build the dam at all costs; our main goal is to resolve the problem of the energy deficiency in the region. If it turns out that the power plant in Maima and a cascade of small hydro dams on Chuya River are sufficient to supply energy needs in the republic, it is most likely that we [will] reject the plans for the dam construction in Chemal region,” noted Berdnikov.
The idea to build a hydro electric station on the Katun River first emerged in the 1980s, but the project declined thanks to strong local opposition. In the late 1990s the project was again under consideration, but the plans did not bloom until early 2005 when the local administration, backed by Moscow-based financial interests, tried to re-launch the project. Like 20 years ago, the dam construction plans met a great deal of opposition – a coalition of local and international environmental activists initiated a large campaign against the dam by sending petitions to the local and federal governments and providing information to prospective investors about the project’s environmental and economic risks. Although the news about the adoption of the new Chemal development plan and Berdnikov’s recent statements were a great relief for a lot of people, there is always a chance that these plans make way their way back on the decision-makers’ table.