> Chinese Constructor Fails to Repair Damage to Protected River in Montenegro

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Chinese Constructor Fails to Repair Damage to Protected River in Montenegro


China Road and Bridge Corporation has not yet repaired the damage done by highway construction to the UNESCO-protected Tara River, Montenegro's environmental agency confirms.

Montenegro’s Agency for Environmental Protection said on Thursday that China Road and Bridge Corporation, CRBC, has not yet corrected the damage done to the Tara River, part of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which occurred during construction of the Bar-Boljare highway. A BIRN investigation showed that the Chinese company was obliged to correct the damage by July 2022.

“Projected remediation measures have not yet been completed … We expect that, in the coming period, CRBC will fully realize all the obligations, otherwise we will do it ]ourselves] at the expense of the Chinese company,” the agency told BIRN.

“CRBC has so far corrected the left bank of the river, rehabilitated the local macadam road, and remedied the bed of the Tara River to a length of about 500 meters,” the Agency specified.

The Bar-Boljare highway represents the Montenegrin leg of a larger highway running from the Adriatic coast to the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

CRBC is building the Montenegrin leg and 85 per cent of the first section is being covered by a $944 million loan from China’s Exim Bank.

On July 13, 2023, the first section of the highway was officially opened, seven years after the Chinese-financed project started, driving up Montenegro’s public debt to 90.85 per cent of GDP.

In June 2019, the local watchdog NGO MANS warned that the highway’s construction was devastating the Tara River, including its UNESCO-protected area, stressing that the construction of bridges and the exploitation and disposal of gravel and sand had damaged the riverbed.

After the Environmental Protection Agency determined the damage, a remediation plan with CRBC was determined on August 2, 2021.

But civic organisations criticized the remediation measures approved by the Agency, stating that the rehabilitation of only 500 meters of river bed was not enough because more than six kilometers of the river course has been damaged.

Lazar Grdinic, from MANS, said there have been no serious efforts to rehabilitate the devastated part of the Tara riverbed and even partially restore it.

“So far, there are no serious scientific studies that would give a definitive answer to the question of the extent of the devastation,” Grdinic told BIRN.

The head of the local Sports Fishing Club, Momir Zivkovic, also said highway construction had destroyed both the river and its fish stock. In April 2018, the club received a concession to manage fish stocks on part of the Tara, but, due to the devastation of the river, it had demanded compensation from the Chinese company.

“In the past, dozens of fish could be caught on Tara in one day. Today, the situation with the fish stock is a catastrophic, and you can hardly meet a fisherman here, ” Zivkovic told BIRN.

BIRN was not able to contact CRBC.

Nicknamed the “tear of Europe”, the Tara is considered one of the most beautiful rivers on the continent, and its deep canyons are popular among river rafters.

In its 2019 progress report on the country, the European Commission urged Montenegro to prevent possible environmental damage being done to the Tara in the context of the highway.

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