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How Prime ministers lie of the Lentekhi-Mestia road

Thursday, 16 December 2021 20:08 hits 889 times
In the photo - Prime Minister Kvirikashvili with government officials in Svaneti
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In the photo - Prime Minister Kvirikashvili with government officials in Svaneti

I promise we will build the road from Lentekhi to Mestia in the next four years. This project is essential for developing villages in Lower Svaneti and Racha-Lechkhumi. It will improve the situation for every family living here“, - said Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili on August 25, 2016. According to his speech, we should visit Mestia from Lentekhi in 1.5 hours. 

Kvirikashvili made this promise in Lentekhi while introducing parliamentary candidate Gocha Enukidze to local electors.  

On September 16, the same year, 22 days before the elections, Kvirikashvili mentioned a 38-kilometers-long road and a six-kilometer-long tunnel connecting Lentekhi and Mestia.

 

Roads from Lentekhi to Mestia

There are two ways to go from Lentekhi to Mestia and back.

First, you should go to Kutaisi, then Zugdidi and travel to Mestia. Jvari-Mestia section of the 300 kilometers long road is particularly hard, requiring six hours to cover.

Another option is Lentekhi-Lasdili-Mestia road. Even though it is only 128 kilometers long, you would still need approximately six hours to cover it. Additionally, only off-road cars and only in summer can pass it. 

Zagari Pass, situated 2642 meters above sea level, is covered in winter, making the road impassable until late spring.

Three villages: Tsana, Zeskho, and Koruldashi, are left without winter roads. Since 2006, only 8-10 people have lived in Tsana; 2 people in Zeskho; Koruldashi became a deserted village.

Between the censuses of 2002 and 2014, the population in Lentekhi halved. 4400 people live in 54 villages. In 2020 only 48 babies were born in the entire region.

In 2015-2019 more than 760000 local and international tourists visited Mestia and Ushguli. Unfortunately, neither Geostat nor Georgian National Tourism Administration count the number of visitors in Lower Svaneti.

The road's primary purpose between Lentekhi and Mestia was to improve the situation for Lower Svaneti and create circular tourist routes.

Promised and commercial tenders

Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of „Georgian Dream“, promised the convenient road to the Svaneti population before the 2012 parliamentary elections. In 9 years since, the same promise accompanied every parliamentary and local election.

Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili on February 21, 2016, in Mestia:

There is only one ski path on Tetnuldi. We plan to build three more ropeways and turn this place into one of the best resorts in Eastern Europe. We will also make an additional ropeway connecting village Mulakhi to the Tetnuldi base. Another new road between Kutaisi to Svaneti, crossing Tsageri-Lentekhi, will connect Kutaisi airport to Tetnuldi“.

Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, August 24, 2016, executive government meeting, Tbilisi: „I want to introduce you to the new phase of Tetnuldi development. With the Partnership Fund, we plan to build necessary infrastructure in Tetnuldi, such as hotels, entertainment centers, sports schools, malls, and of course, polyclinic. These are the minimal requirements for a resort to function“.

We also need to restore Jvari-Tetnuldi road so that the resort is easily reachable from the Samegrelo side as well“.

On August 5, 2016, the Roads Department of Georgia declared the electronic tender for the project works of Lentekhi and Mestia municipalities connecting roads. The assumed value of the tender was four million GEL.

„The road from Mestia to Lentekhi is closed in winter due to the heavy snowfalls. The increasing number of international visitors created a necessity to connect two popular destinations Mestia and Lentekhi, via a road tunnel. It will create a “tourist circle” – Kutaisi – Tskaltubo – Lentekhi – Mestia – Tetnuldi – Ushguli – Zugdidi –Anaklia“, – is written in the tender introduction.

On September 28, ten days before the elections, the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure of Georgia shared an advertising film: „We plan to build a six-kilometers-long tunnel and 38-kilometers-long road connecting Lentekhi and Mestia“. However, it should be noted that not even a single tender offer was made yet.

„The construction works will start in 2018 and finish in 2020. This project will cut the travel time from Lentekhi to Mestia to 1.5 hours“.

According to the information from the website of the Government of Georgia, tunnel construction should start in 2017 and end in 2020. The 200 million USD project description mentions a 40-kilometers-long road and 5-6 kilometers-long tunnel between Lentekhi and Mestia.

Two companies made tender offers. The Georgian branch of „Temelsu Uluslararası Mühendislik Hizmetleri“ assumed the cost at 3650000 GEL. The Georgian branch of Croatian „IGH Institut“ offered the same works with a budget of 3973600 GEL. The Turkish company got disqualified due to improper documentation, and the Croatian one was declared the winner. The director of the winning company is Robert Petrosian, a Russian citizen. On September 26, 2016, the company registered in Georgia after the tender was declared.

In two weeks of registration, they have already won two tenders – Bagdati-Abastumani section rehabilitation and reconstruction and Upper Imereti-Racha connecting road building and reconstruction for 3 369 991 GEL 3 156 620 GEL, respectively. The Croatian company demanded more money than other participants but won nevertheless on both occasions.

According to the agreement, formed on December 9, 2016, the Georgian branch of the Croatian company should present the project in the next 12 months. Unfortunately, the requirement was not met. The document was amended 15 times, extending the deadline several times and increasing the cost to 4 688 848 GEL.

In the statement of March 7, 2019, the Roads Department of Georgia announced that the creation of the project was almost done.

„The project team managed to specify 80% of the length of the road. At this stage, the specifying and developing of the severe relief and hydrological data is in progress. Also, designing the artificial structures is in active process on the whole route.

The approximate length of the Lentekhi-Mestia connection road is 27km, and the construction of a 9km tunnel is also planned. The width of the road will be 8meter, out of which the 6.5meter are for asphalt concrete pavement and the rest for the shoulders.

Lentekhi-Mestia connecting road will be started in Lentekhi, passing through Laskadula gorge, a mountainous array with a 9 km tunnel. It will be connected to Zugdidi-Mestia road, at Leshguani village, passing through Lailachi gorge.

With this road, Upper (Zemo) Svaneti and Lower (Kvemo) Svaneti will be connected by the shortest way. After completing the project, travel time in the Lentekhi-Mestia direction will be reduced by almost 1.5 hours. Furthermore, after completing rehabilitation works, tourists will get to Mestia from Kutaisi airport within 2.5 hours. On top of this, Lechkhumi will have an opportunity to develop a vast potential to facilitate the region's development“.

The Georgian branch of the Croatian company presented the project to the Roads Department of Georgia on November 27, 2019, after two years of delay.

Gocha Enukidze was once again a parliamentary candidate in the 2020 elections. On October 10, 21 days before the Election Day, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia met with electors with Enukidze and stated that the road-building would start in the first half of 2021.

On August 25 Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili met with Svan elders in Mestia.

„The cost of the road is 100 million GEL. The construction will be completed in two years. Therefore, Lentekhi-Ushguli section should end earlier, in 2022“, - stated Gharibashvili.

On the Administration of the Government of Georgia website, the statement above appeared as follows: „Mestia-Lentekhi road, costing 100 million GEL, will be completed in 2023. Ushguli road construction will end in 2022“.

Both the Prime Minister and Administration of the Government of Georgia spread the false information. One hundred million is the cost of the rehabilitation of the existing Lentekhi-Ushguli-Mestia road. The works started back in 2017. The project consists of six parts. Three for Lentekhi-Lasdili section (total value – 62 790 300 GEL) and three for Mestia-Kala-Ushguli section (total value – 33 822 600 Gel). Nodar Javakhisvhili, a former Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure of Georgia, promised the half of the rehabilitation would end in 2016. After the 2016 elections, Javakhishvili resigned, and works would not even start for another year. After the start, 2019 was the initial deadline, but it soon changed to 2020 and 2022.

According to the new road project, it will start in Lentekhi municipality and head to Mestia along the river Laskadula gorge. After 14 kilometers, start the 9 km. Tunnel. Another 12 km section of the road heads to Mestia via Lailachi gorge crosses river Enguri and joins the existing road.

On February 19, 2020, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia returned the environmental impact assessment to the Roads Department of Georgia with remarks. The ministry concluded that the Croatian company did not present the qualified evaluation. 

The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia invalidated the project's scope of work and stopped the administrative proceedings on September 16, 2021.

Ilo Kardava

Reporter-Translator at mtisambebi.ge, holds a bachelor’s degree in Politics from Tbilisi State University. He works on political and social issues, essential events from Greater and Lesser Caucasus regions. E-mail: iloqardava@gmail.com

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