Will Sochi Be The Next Olympic Ghost Town?

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Colin Daileda – The fireworks are over. The streets are quiet. Now, Sochi, Russia must figure out how to move forward without a clear plan for doing so.

Sochi used to be a relatively peaceful resort town, surrounded by a marsh and snow-topped mountains, but that all changed when it won its Olympic bid. The marsh was trampled by construction necessary for the games. Hotels and stadiums materialized. An international outcry saved the city’s stray dogs from a mass killing. All these events have left problems that are now up to Sochi to solve.

How much has construction hampered the surrounding environment? Who will fill all these hotels and stadiums? What will happen to the dogs now that the international attention is fading?

When it comes to the environment, the damage is already done.

“Whenever you’re converting green space to some kind of human settlement, there’s going to be lasting impacts of some kind,” Allen Hershkowitz, a Ph.D scientist at the National Resources Defense Council , told Mashable.

New roads and buildings, while potentially a good thing for a city’s infrastructure, fundamentally alter how water is absorbed, especially in marshy terrain such as Sochi.

“That impervious surface that they put in is going to persist, even if they don’t maintain roads and don’t maintain any of those structures,” said Joseph Kiesecker, a lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy. “You basically have to build a base and a bed in which to place a road on, and so that can have a dramatic impact on how water moves across the land surface.”

Marshes act as a sponge, and they’re meant to soak up excess water and release it slowly. Concrete and asphalt prevent the marsh from functioning normally, and that can lead to runoff, erosion and more floods during storms.

The railroad that now runs from Sochi up to the surrounding mountains will cause similar damage, and perhaps permanently alter the migratory patterns of local animals such as bears and turs, animals that look like a cross between a goat and an antelope.

The $51 billion poured into Sochi for the Olympics made it the most expensive games in history, and all that money and construction was meant to turn Sochi into a resort that was packed year-round, but the chances of that happening don’t look good.

Hotel occupancy rates are expected to plummet by between 35% and 40%, according to a report released by Moody’s Investors Service. That’s to be expected following an event such as the Olympics, but it’s worrisome when the same Moody’s report estimates that Sochi needs to double its number of visitors per year to around five million if it hopes to keep all its hotels filled.

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