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Wednesday 16.01.2019 | Name days: Lida, Lidija

Breathing air thick with political dust; who benefits from putting pressure on Ventspils Commercial port

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUFor two weeks now society has been actively fed misleading information and basically propaganda that Ventspils Commercial Port does not perform its duties before the city’s residents. Reports from the State Environment Service that air moistening is effective and meets required levels do not seem convincing enough for Latvia’s Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry. This institution’s headlines are written misleading – instead of informing society, they scare them. At the same time, being a state institution, the environment ministry cannot afford not including experts’ opinions. Because of that, some paragraphs are dedicated to conclusions made by the State Environment Service – that air moistening in Ventspils fits requirements, and that no violations were recorded at Ventspils Commercial Port.

Nevertheless, because of certain ‘coincidences’, Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Kaspars Gerhards has decided to change the board of the local Environment Service Office and put one of his close associates – a former representative of the National Alliance there. The person in question is the director of Madona Regional Environment Office Normunds Broks. From now on, he will be in charge of Ventspils Regional Environment Office. As a result of rotation of officials, Inguna Pļaviņa, who was previously in charge of Ventspils Regional Environment Office, will be in charge of Madona Regional Environment Office.

At first it seemed Gerhards would not appoint such a close associate of his in such an open and blunt way. In a conversation with deputy director general of Latvia’s State Environment Service Aina Stašāne, she confirmed that Normunds Broks, who will be in charge of Ventspils Regional Environment Office, served in the past as Minister for Special Assignments for Administration of European Union Funds. It is the same Normunds Broks who, together with Gerhards, formed the seat of government when Ivars Godmanis was in power in Latvia.

There are concerns about environment ministry’s intentions in Ventspils, specifically that it is not the institution’s desire to help the city, but instead ‘scratch’ the city some more.

According to the ministry, rotation of posts is performed regularly. This begs a question: where was EPRDM all these years? Why does not action follows residents’ complaints are targeted against companies in which people close to Aivars Lembergs work? Does people’s welfare not matter when there is strong backing behind those companies?

George Orwell said, «All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others»

It should be mentioned that it was Ventspils municipality that turned to Gerhards with the coal dust problem at VCP, saying that port authority’s efforts are not enough to prevent dust clouds from plaguing the city. The city council requested keeping society informed to the maximum extent of all efforts to limit coal dust within the specific company’s territory.

Take notice: «keeping society informed to the maximum extent». Does the city council’s plan to keep society informed include reporting misleading information? It is commendable that the environment ministry has started working at least prior to Saeima elections, and has already provided certain recommendations. But it is nonetheless important to remember that improving the current situations means some problems have been found in regulations.

It is worth mentioning Ventspils City Council opposition deputy Aivis Landmanis comment on the situation in the port city. He stressed that throughout all the years he has worked in Ventspils City Council, not once he has not been able to access information regarding any activities Ventspils Freeport Authority and the city council have done to improve the situation in the city. He stressed that «Ventspils Freeport authority and Ventspils City Council should be the first to answer questions, because the current situation is the result of negligence of two institutions».

A question for the city council, then: wouldn’t it be better to extend a helping hand to Ventspils Commercial Port if deputies of the ruling coalition are so very worried about protecting residents? Where has the suspended chairman of Ventspils City Council Aivars Lembergs disappeared to this time? It seems the tactic of «being quiet like a field mouse» has worked, because EPRDM has been pulled in, allowing him to stay in the shadow and take no responsibility if something bad happens with his PR. If the situation resolves in favour of local voters, Lembergs will likely come up with a way to present it as though he was instrumental in resolving everything, since Lembergs, according to himself, «follows all events and developments very closely». It is no secret that Lembergs has been ‘chummy’ with EPRDM for a long time.

It should be said that reports from experts state that concentration of PM10 particles in the air in Ventspils does not exceed average levels recorded in Latvia. This means, air quality in the port city is on par with the rest of the country. People’s discomfort is, however, understandable. Residents say dust in the air in Ventspils is a normal occurrence, and they understand that this is something they have to deal with being this close to the port. The unusually hot weather and strong wind, however, have created a major problem for residents.

Wouldn’t it be great if Ventspils City Council came up with ideas to increase residents’ welfare with actual actions and not just meetings with experts who later publish reports containing misleading information? There are experts in the city council that have definitely seen SES’ reports on permitted air pollution levels. They are well aware that coal dust has no effect on people’s health. They what’s with the loud announcements regarding inadequate coal heap sprinkling at Ventspils Commercial Port? This is why attacks on the port demonstrate a desire to interfere with the port’s activities, not the desire to help out residents.

VCP experts say coal dust are not and cannot possibly serve as the only source of pollution. «Let’s not forget about emissions coming from different types of transports and factories. In addition, coal cargo volumes have declined considerably these past couple of years, which means concentration of coal dust cannot possibly reach levels of previous years. VCP performs regular monitoring of coal dust concentration in the air. Data regarding concentration levels is controlled by SES Ventspils Region Environment Office. So far coal dust concentration levels have not exceeded permitted levels.»

During the recent meeting with Ventspils residents, SIA Estonian, Latvian & Lithuanian Environment board member Aiga Kāla emphasized that ‘media report a lot of misleading information about dust and its influence on human health. Coal dust particles are 10 μm larger than dust particles and cannot enter the human body.’

She added that «large particles visible with the naked eye can cause some discomfort, but they do not end up in our lungs». To fix this situation, Ventspils Commercial Port considers using snow cannons to create a fog-like barrier from the side of the docks. VCP Technical Director Māris Lieģis said during the meeting that the port also has plans to set up more platforms with snow cannons to create the ‘water wall’. He mentioned visiting Klaipeda, where his Lithuanian colleagues also tried using snow cannons in summer.

With that, the intimidation tactic used against residents from EPRDM seems odd and only causes another question: why does the ministry employ tendentious and misleading reports instead of explaining the situation in a simple manner to residents?

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