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Sochi defends Games record on environment

Europe
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Sochi, Russia (dpa) - Sochi Olympics organizers Sunday rejected claims of widespread environmental damage in constructing venues for the Games.

"Any construction site incurs certain damage to the environment, however all the impact to the environment is compensated for and now this process is carefully managed and being monitored," Danila Ovcharov, of the Sochi organizing committee, said.

Landscape work in Sochi is continuing, and for every tree that has been removed three have been planted, Ovcharov, head of sustainability and the environment, said.

Waste management has also been modernized, with two dumps turned into green sites and a new treatment facility opened.

Environmentalist have criticized the damage caused in building venues from scratch in what have become at 37.5 billion euros the most expensive Games in history.

Chief architect Oleg Kharchenko said of the Olympic Park in Sochi that "there is not a place in Russia with so many buildings that follow all the requirements of international environmental standards."

The park houses the Fisht Olympic Stadium, the Bolshoy Ice Dome (ice-hockey) the Shayba Arena (ice-hockey), the Ice Cube Curling Center, the Adler Arena Skating Center and the Iceberg Skating Palace,

"Before the Olympic Park, this territory used to be a large swamp," he said.

"There were a lot of obsolete buildings and it didn‘t look nice at all. It wasn‘t a place you would like to live. We have created a totally new city.

"We have given the city a chance to survive by spending so much money and putting so much effort into this city."

Kharchenko also said steps were taken to limit the damage to the Mzymta valley by the construction of a road connecting the coastal cluster to the mountain cluster of Krasnaya Polyana.

"We did it as carefully as possible and built overpasses and tunnels where possible," he said.

Experts from the United Nations Environment Programme will visit Sochi twice a year until 2030 to monitor the valley‘s recultivation.

Stadiums will also be put to good use after the Games, Kharchenko said. The Shayba Arena will, for example, be turned into a children‘s and youth centre, while a Formula One track is being built around the coastal cluster.

Hotels will house holiday guests to the Black Sea resort or be converted into apartments.

Organizers say millions of young fish have also been released into rivers while three pairs of the endangered Caucasian leopard have found a haven in the region thanks to a Sochi programme.

Organizations including Greenpeace and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) as well as government opponents have been critical of the cost of the Games to the environment.

They have also accused authorities of harassment and arrests of opponents. For weeks they have been lobbying for the release of jailed activist Yevgeny Vitishko, who criticized construction for the Olympics.

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