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Big problems of the Big Stone

Life in one of the most successful ASEZs in the Far East

Creating territories of advanced development in the Far East, the authorities, in addition to achieving obvious economic goals, hoped to turn the macroregion from a zone of social disaster into a prosperous land. By 2025, the regions of the Far East in terms of social development indicators should rise above the average Russian level, said Yuri Trutnev, the presidential envoy at the start of megaprojects, back in 2017. Stop the outflow of the population, give jobs with decent wages, build schools and hospitals, and a hundred more tasks - the Far East has not been dealt with for decades, and wherever you go, there are problems everywhere. Official statistics press down with billions of dollars in investments and colossal indicators of economic growth, but how is life for those who see megaprojects every day from their window? Our correspondent visited the town of Bolshoy Kamen in Primorye, and was convinced: although the region has really changed, living at a construction site is still not very comfortable. And not all contradictions between big projects and small people are resolved with lightning speed.

Big problems of the Big Stone
Photo: @bknovosti

Brilliant prospects

In Bolshoy Kamen, on the basis of an old defense plant, the shipyard SSK "Zvezda" is being built - in the future, the largest in Russia and one of the most powerful in the world. "Zvezda" - an anchor resident of the TOP; in total, 19 projects with declared investments of 263,3 billion rubles are being implemented on a small site. According to the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East, when all projects reach their design capacity, 15,3 thousand jobs will be created. Investors have already invested 148,1 billion rubles in the economy of Primorye, employed more than 9 thousand people, follows from the materials of the department. Bolshoi Kamen has overcome the main "curse" of the region - the outflow of the population. Although people are still leaving Primorye, the population of the city of Bolshoy Kamen has grown from 38 to 41 thousand people, it follows from the materials of the regional statistics.


The shipyard SSK Zvezda, designed to revive the former leadership of the domestic shipbuilding industry, has already built a giant Aframax-class ship (previously purchased abroad), and laid the foundation for the latest-generation icebreaker Leader. There is a pollock processing plant (Dobroflot Group of Companies). A plant for the production of propeller-driven propellers for ships "Sapphire" was erected. The Aquaculture L company is preparing to produce seafood. Construction has become another important industry - for example, a large hotel has appeared in the city, houses and social infrastructure are being built.

Large projects, like a magnet, attract small and medium-sized businesses, says Sergei Skali, director of the Resident Policy Department of the Far East Development Corporation, “this is important for sustainable development ...”, he emphasizes. Population growth requires reciprocal steps from local authorities, the capacity of the old infrastructure is not enough. “Electricity and heat supply facilities, water supply and sewerage facilities have been created and continue to be created, gas is supplied, roads are being built,” adds Skali.

In the shadow of Goliath

“Under construction” seems to be the key word. The city resembles a giant construction site. The giant Goliath crane at the shipyard can be seen from anywhere. The rhythm is frantic: in the morning there are traffic jams in the once sleepy regional center, people are hurrying to work in the dark. The roads are still so-so: they are being repaired here and there, new ones are being laid, but they are clearly not enough for the dramatically increased traffic flow. 

Photo: SSK "Zvezda"

The burden on public utilities is growing faster than new facilities are being built. Because of this, power outages and accidents on heat supply routes have become more frequent. They had to start from an almost zero base: at the time of the appearance of the TOP, the city's communal infrastructure was extremely worn out, says the head of the city district Alexander Andryukhin. “The city was built by the forces of prisoners, sometimes in an emergency, many networks are not plotted. While construction work is underway, old cables are torn. Plus, new consumers are appearing. The nets don't hold up, ”he adds. But this is temporary, the authorities assure, give only a time limit.

“But Moscow prices seem to be forever,” disgruntled pensioners who occupy stores when rush hour falls. We examine the counters - of course, it is far from the "Moscow prices", however, the pricing in Primorye is hardly correct to compare with that in the Center of Russia. “Everything has risen in price,” says the grandmother confidently and with pressure as she chooses the simple components of her grocery basket in the supermarket. The residents of China, who found themselves in the epicenter of the construction of special economic zones (they call it the “Chinese effect”), faced such an effect, and it is also observed in all Russian megastructures. Until 2017, Bolshoy Kamen had the status of a closed city, which means it was closed and stable. Modest salaries did not change for years, there were no outsiders. Now people with big money have come here. They create new needs. Trade is in a hurry to satisfy. As a result, prices go up for everyone.

This is best seen by an indicator such as the cost of renting an apartment. Before the appearance of the TOP, the rental housing market was essentially absent, respectively, the prices balanced around the lowest level, barely exceeding the cost of housing and communal services. Today, renting a one-room apartment costs 20-30 thousand rubles or more: as in Vladivostok. However, the locals are just happy with this indicator. There are a lot of people with "extra" housing here, now it is finally possible to make money on it.

At the city forum on the Web, they scold public utilities (it's dirty, they don't take out garbage), complain about stray dogs and broken roads, but basically all the same - grievances against investors. They could be more willing to hire locals rather than import them from all over the country. “We would be glad, but projects, especially at an early stage and taking into account the tight deadlines, need highly qualified specialists. There is no reason to expect that all of them will be found in a small town. Over time, the companies will establish training, and the local staff will increase, ”says a representative of one of the residents on the basis of anonymity.

Investors are doing their job, but the city authorities seem to be at a loss in a new situation for themselves and cannot cope with the increased urban economy, local patriot and entrepreneur Yevgeny Zozulya is sure. “They are hiding behind federal programs: a shipyard, a road built to it, a residential area for employees of a new enterprise, a kindergarten. What exactly did the municipality do? Ensure the work of housing and communal services, improvement is elementary, ”he gets excited.

Ecology games

Another troublemaker is ecology. Despite the harshness of the Russian environmental legislation (in the opinion of entrepreneurs, the harshness is even excessive), the patriarchal town, having turned into the center of a dynamically developing industrial region, has lost its virgin purity. True, where the "virgin purity" comes from, if submarines were repaired here under the USSR, it is not clear. The beaches, which the locals called "almost resort" (to be honest, the key word here is "almost"), look dirty. At the forums, everyone blames the pollock plant, but even more often they talk about the construction of the Vera port for handling coal, and then, they say, the tiniest bit will begin.

In order to avoid the "tin", it is necessary to ask the residents harder and ahead of time, not to wait for the "explosive", says Yevgeny Zozulya. “The presence of industry should not interfere with people's lives, as it happens with coal terminals in Nakhodka,” he says, recalling the story of coal dust, which at one time “terrorized” this city. “Formally, construction work goes through environmental expertise, large enterprises have environmental passports. At the same time, the Novy Mir microdistrict suffocates from ammonia from refrigerators and pollock waste, ”says local deputy Konstantin Belokon. The pollock processing plant gives the city a thousand jobs, its construction has passed all the required examinations, the manager of the Dobroflot Group of Companies Alexander Efremov is responsible. Waste is completely recycled, the functioning of such an enterprise without treatment facilities is unthinkable, he emphasizes. “There is ice in Andreeva Bay near the Novy Mir plant, absolutely white and clean. If the plant were to release at least something into the sea, the ice in the bay would instantly be colored. However, this does not happen, it is obvious that the plant does not release effluents into the bay, ”sums up Efremov.

According to the Green Patrol (not a foreign agent), Primorye as a whole in recent years has been in the last positions of the all-Russian environmental rating. This is undoubtedly the price to pay for rapid industrial development. Although there are questions about the rating itself: those who have been in both Vladivostok and Chelyabinsk will never believe that the former is dirtier than the latter. Most of all questions, of course, are about the construction of the future port. So, ecologists are embarrassed that the soil taken from under the old defense plant, where nuclear submarines were repaired, is not recognized as dangerous. Officials refer to the data of the examination and shrug their shoulders: they say, everything is clean. Anatoly Lebedev, chairman of the public ecological organization BROK, has not heard of any significant environmental conflicts in Bolshoy Kamen.

Stone in the swamp

So far, it is mainly the initiators themselves who benefit from the implementation of megaprojects, Belokon is sure. This is generally the dominant mood in the local intelligentsia: the "rich" came and ruined everything. And they were brought by the federals and people from Vladivostok: in the city, in fact, external management was introduced by the regional administration, says Belokon. “Issues that arise during construction are resolved retroactively, with all the resulting losses and the attendant mess,” he emphasizes. “The territory is not ready for such a rapid development, which we actually faced. Many things were simply not taken into account, ”Andryukhin agrees.

This intertime is especially vividly manifested in architecture: houses are being built anywhere, often on the site of parks; faceless panels of panels are being built, and the old residential sector is being demolished. The authorities should have thought about territorial zoning before erecting factories, says regional deputy Gennady Lazarev. “Now we are looking for land plots where social housing could be built. There is free land, but it is necessary to supply heat, electricity, water, sewerage there, ”says Andryukhin. Listening to local officials and deputies, you catch yourself thinking that such a conversation could take place in absolutely any Russian city. Only here at least something is happening, apart from the traditional administrative chaos. The same residents of the old sector have been showing current ceilings and frozen floors to local TV channels for years, and now they are moving to "faceless" but modern housing.

Bolshoi Kamen is not the first, and not the last city in Russia, in which an interesting effect is observed. “Upstairs” decide the fate of a small settlement, and they do not suspect that they are throwing a stone into calm waters, where life has been going on for decades, as if painted from notes. Here are the local elites, here are the "population", here are the traditions. Everything changes overnight, and local elites will have to find themselves in a new configuration. “All refrigerators of the plant (both existing and under construction) run on freon, so there can be no smell of ammonia from our production in principle. Municipal deputies perceive any investor as a target for blackmail and a tool for gaining cheap popularity, ”Efremov says emotionally.

And what about the local authorities, confused? Certainly. In the ZATO era, the city was financed according to needs and did not deny itself anything, which, however, did not prevent the infrastructure from being brought to a catastrophic state. In 2017, the ZATO status was removed, and “officials had to face a difficult budgetary reality,” Andryukhin says. But if a lot of ZATOs were simply thrown into free swimming, here, in Bolshoy Kamen, new perspectives immediately emerged.

However, local officials could not take advantage of them. Most likely, many years of paternalistic traditions have affected: everything will be decided for us, and if they decide not the way we want it, it will be worse for them. The city did not prepare documents for obtaining federal co-financing. In 2018, Yuri Trutnev came here. Only after that, at the city level, they began to draw up a comprehensive development plan, but slowly: the federals approved it only in 2020. Even today, “not all funding sources have been identified, while the mayor's office must justify the allocation of federal funds for the implementation of the comprehensive plan,” says Andryukhin. In 2020, the region gave Bolshoy Kamen 1,2 billion, the Center - 140 million, but only for the repair of the storm water drain, 3 billion are needed, three annual budgets of the city. Where did the "unlimited budgetary funding" of the ZATO era go? It's a good question. And as an "ideal, clean town" he lived without rainstorms - too. However, it is useless to talk about these topics with local patriots.

An investor comes to earn money, and there is no need to expect that he will solve all the problems of the city, says Yuri Avdeev, a leading researcher at the Pacific Institute of Geography of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This is the task of the state, with which it copes poorly. “All the generosity of the federal authorities, which provided benefits - mostly at the expense of the municipalities. In the TOP, the authorities of Bolshoy Kamen are practically not the owners, they cannot set the conditions on which the resident enters, ”the expert notes.

And yet, to think that the city is "occupied" by investors, and the authorities turned out to be obedient puppets in the hands of the federals and "capitalists" is not necessary. It seems that the authorities are beginning to orient themselves in the new realities and to show initiative. Recently, Alexander Andryukhin appealed to the residents of the city about the construction of a metallurgical enterprise. “We agreed to create a working group that will prepare a public discussion. I ask everyone who is interested in the project of a metallurgical plant in the village of Sukhodol to send their questions to the head by the end of February, ”the head of the city wrote on social networks. The residents' questions will be transferred to the Far Eastern Shipbuilding and Ship Repair Center: it is this organization that will carry out the construction. Instead of a conflict and investors, with Vladivostok, with the Center, with anyone - a dialogue; undoubtedly, this is exactly the scenario that will ultimately play into the hands of the citizens of a small but proud city with glorious Soviet traditions and an outstanding, interesting future.

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