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Russian 'Disney-style' theme park to replace polluting factory near Lake Baikal

Russian 'Disney-style' theme park to replace polluting factory near Lake Baikal
The shores of the world’s largest lake will soon open doors to a new Disney-themed amusement park and a surrounding nature reserve. It will be built on the site of the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill which was once a major polluter of the lake.

The park will be called 'Sacred Russia’ and will feature a nature reserve, and in the center an amusement park, Izvestia reports. An education center, hotel complex, academic and research center, and historical Russian architectural monuments- for example the Moscow Kremlin and the Kazan Cathedral- will also be erected.

It is anticipated the new project will boost tourism by 2 million visitors per year.

The bidding for construction of the park is expected to be begin soon, and the project must be approved this year, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources. The complex is slated for completion by 2017.

The Baikal amusement park complex will be financed through Vnesheconombank, a state-owned bank, but the amount of investment is still unknown. 

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited the town of Baikalsk, situated on the southeastern shore of the lake last week. He explained to a local audience the park will create about 2,500 jobs and draw in tourist dollasr, thus neutralizing any negative economic effects of the plant closing.

"The Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill will be closed, and there is no turning back," said Medvedev in the Irkutsk region.

View of Lake Baikal. (RIA Novosti/Anton Denisov)

Medvedev assured local residents it wouldn’t be a case of ‘good for the environment, bad for me’.

“People need normal jobs and normal salaries. The factory guaranteed work and money, but now, the overall development task is to make the Baikal region an economic, as well as a tourist zone. This is our joint task,” Medvedev said at the gathering.

The government will allocate about $91.7 million (3 billion roubles) for environmental clean up of the pulp and paper plant and restore the surrounding area, and another $428 million (14 billion roubles) will be used to close the plant.

The bankrupt mill

In 1961, the same year Khrushchev famously declared that communism would be built in 20 years, construction of the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill began and it successfully produced bleached pulp for over 40 years.

The paper mill became known as one of the largest pollutants of the pristine Lake Baikal.

In 2008, at the request of regional authorities, production of bleached pulp was suspended and the mill switched to producing less profitable unbleached pulp using closed-water cycle technology that didn’t release any sewage into the lake. After the switch, the plant became highly unprofitable.

On February 27, 2013, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich announced the decision to close the mill, and to move production to other plants. In 2010, the Lake Baikal plant was on the verge of bankruptcy, and in 2013, Alfa Bank bought the company's debt, along with Oleg Deripaska, owner of Basic Element, an energy asset group. Deripsaska said he doesn't plan to invest in the project.

Environmentalists are pleased at the prospect of replacing the old mill with the theme park, as they estimate the plant generated over 40,000 tonnes of chemical waste in its lifetime.

The decision to close the plant is supported by UNESCO, who are concerned with efforts to preserve the lake.