Author: Milanka Kovačević, Direkt portal za Centar za životnu sredinu
After closing an ash landfill from the Thermal power plant Gacko, three decades were still not enough for nature to fix the sloppy recultivation job. As far as the Coal mine and Thermal power plant Gacko is concerned, which is in financial problems, that certainly is the end of the story.
The local government predicted a total recovery by year 2034. Experience tells us that most plans end up as unaccomplished wishes. It’s up to nature to fix what RiTE Gacko could not.
Around 5km from the power plant Gacko, there is a former ash dumping ground. Located in Gacko municipality in close vicinity to Dražljevo village, in which only three families are left to live. Ash that is produced by lignite combustion in the Gacko power plant has been disposed of at that location from 1982 until 1992. After that it was disposed of in the exploited part of the mine, while recultivation began on the tailing field in Dražljevo.
An 18 hectare area, roughly 33 football fields, is turned in to a plateau, which tells us enough about the careless approach toward nature. Part of the former landfill isn’t covered with a layer of soil, while from within this mound, a creek flows into the lake.
Everything turned white
Momir Vuković remembers it as one of the most beautiful villages in the Gacko municipality.
,,The local population mostly lived from agriculture, cattle breeding, hunting and fishing. We had watermills, in three villages we had 10 springs, we dug stone, sold fire wood and construction material. When RiTE Gacko opened, we became the most endangered place around Gacko” said Vuković, trying to understand why it was decided that the tailing field was located 100m from the Vrba lake.
Out of the artificial accumulations Vrba and Klinje flows the river Mušnica, which further down builds Trebišnjica, the longest sinking river in Europe.
,,The landfill destroyed Dražljevo, and all the springs became unusable. Apart from that, water from the landfill drains down to the lake where we fish and swim” he says, implying the multilayered pollution problem.
Vuković today lives in the town. He maintains his family land in Dražljevo. Even though a large piece of his land was expropriated, still there is a lot left. He says that the situation is a lot better now than when tailings and ash were transported in to the village.
,,At first, the locals blocked the ash income several times, until it would be done properly. Wherever you look, the hills and fields were white from ash’’ remembers Vuković.
That was confirmed by Milan Glogovac, one of the best known cattle breeders in Gacko municipality, whose house is very close to the tailing site. In the beginning, it was intolerable.
,,The situation was awful. The ash was driven in cisterns and dumped into the lake. The company from Split which did that job in the beginning respected the rules, until our people from Gacko started to transport the ash. They weren’t careful so there was ash everywhere’’ says Glogovac, and added that RiTE wanted to buy off all of his land so that he would move somewhere else (article 9), but they declined that offer.
,,Our homeland was too dear to us to leave’’ said Glogovac, and added that the only good thing that came from all this was that they got an asphalt road to the village, which wouldn’t have been paved if it wasn’t for the landfill.
We don’t expect much, and that’s what we getMomir Vuković claims that, after the ash dump was closed, the situation was more or less normalised, but the land configuration was changed. Instead of a fertile valley, they now have a plateau that isn’t even covered in soil in one part, and down which polluted water flows.
,,As far as I know, they were supposed to place a layer of stone, then sand, and finally a layer of soil 50cm thick over the landfill. Some soil is layered on the dump, which the wind blew around so the least of it is on top of the landfill, and most of it at the bottom or on the road’’ explains Vuković.
That the recultivation on some places was just a facade proves Milan Glogovac’s attempt to plough the land. It turned out that the soil layer was only a few centimetres thick.
Even though he gave up from planting in that part, Glogovac explained that the land can still be used as a pasture for the large herd of cattle he owns.
,,Including the edges, the tailing takes around 20 hectares of area. I’m using part of it as a hayfield and as a pasture, although, a lot of it isn’t covered’’ he says, and also adds that he was promised that all of it will be covered in soil, but that’s up to the ‘people above’.
Unfortunately, information that we expected to get from the company management is withheld from the public. Our questions, as well as our request to get a competent respondent, were left unanswered. Not a single study has been done of the effects on public health. RiTE Gacko doesn’t continuously measure the air pollution, or at least that information isn’t open to the public. Because of that, people that are against the ‘work at all costs’ discipline are left without arguments which would illustrate the magnitude of devastation this company is leaving upon the water, air and land.
Insisting that the company is public belonging to all people, and adding the fact that it’s in a financial crisis, convinced the public to see the other side of the coin.
An idea has been let loose, that it’s wrong and totally unpatriotic to ask for money to be wasted on environment conservation, public health and land recultivation. That’s one of the reasons why this largely non transparent company is allowed to constantly be supported by money, not only of the citizens of Gacko, but of all our tax payers.
Note: This article is part of a series written in cooperation of the Centre for Environment and portal Direkt. The series connects investigating journalism with the work of the Centre for Environment, on transforming the electro energetic system of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the cooperation of many partner organisations from the West Balkans, Europe and the world. The articles are one of the many contributions of the “Stop dirty energy campaign, because the future is renewable”, which has the goal of raising awareness of the public, experts, government institutions and other social circles, of the concerning state of our environment and unsustainable existing energy systems in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The opinions and demands of this campaign towards the institutions in B&H:
*We expect institutions to finally begin to honour their international obligations in the fields of energy and environment preservation.
*We are requesting that, in economic assessments of future energy production projects, the true prices of using energy resources are displayed (including the damage done to the citizens health as well as the environment) while deciding on new projects.
*To cease all plans on constructing new thermal power plants, but turn to energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, abiding the principles of fair transition.