The Skopje-Tetovo-Gostivar gas pipeline and the branch to Kosovo, it seems, will definitely be ‘settled’ in the forest park Vodno. Although, for the time being, the Government does not reveal the final decision of the working group comprised of MEP representatives, the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the City of Skopje and the civil society organizations, all the statements we have heard these days go in that direction.
The government announced on Monday that the inherited situation with the project is being handled so that there are no changes and disorders of nature. Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Koco Angjusev said more directly that changing the route would take several years, and probably additional funds for preparing new documentation. Angjusev even gave a proposal how to minimize the impact of such a large-scale infrastructure project by planting ten times as many trees as the number that would be destroyed. According to him, the choice at another gas pipeline location does not guarantee that some other natural goods will not be destroyed because every infrastructure project affects the environment.
The problem with choosing the Vodno location is that the forest-park is not just any environment, in which building needs to be done carefully. Vodno is a protected area in which any kind of construction is prohibited for several reasons. Primarily, because the mountain is the lungs of Skopje, one of the most polluted cities in the world. We won the championship title with our uncontrolled urbanization, among other things, just at the foot of Vodno, which attacked all the green surfaces that stood in the way of the excavators. Apartment buildings were built, ‘Sun City’, and now a gas pipeline is in the making. It is a real rarity in the world is to have a mountain so close to the city, a place with clean air, no traffic, where you can walk, climb, ride a bike, so at the very least it is frivolous and irresponsible to lose it.
Vodno, as the name suggests, has many underground water courses, which make the land extremely erosive. Because of this, it was deliberately forested in the past. Every logging is a threat, and massive intrusions like this with the pipeline, regardless of the efforts to plant ten trees for one cut, will leave hectares of land as gaps.
Of course, the identification of the forest with the environment is inadequate. The gas pipeline along the ridge of Vodno will not destroy only trees, yet other plants, some of which are endemic that can be found only here, it will disturb the habitat of many animals, birds, insects, some rare and protected due to extinction. The protective belt around the gas line must be up to 25 meters wide, according to the recommendations for safety and accessibility, therefore no plants will be planted there again. This means that the reimbursement of ten for each tree will have to be done somewhere else. But will we transport animals and birds there as well?
The economic motives for building a gas pipeline are undisputed, but the arguments of environmental civic organizations are also legitimate. For the route of the pipeline, the designer proposed several locations, all others in non-protected areas. The public learned about the decision to pass the pipeline precisely to Vodno, and not to the northern part of Skopje a few months ago, when the excavators were already on the field. Everyone responded, except the City of Skopje, which is directly responsible for the protection of the forest park. With the excuse that they participate in the government working group and that the common position will be known these days, they avoid saying what they did to fulfill their duty. In the meantime, we are all placed before a committed act, without explaining who, and how they determined the priorities for the route, with the explanation that there is no time to make changes now. One thing is clear – this will be another blow to Vodno, and the question is whether it will be able to recover from it.