While visiting her parents in the spring of last year, Jovičić Petrović noticed that an entire hill had disappeared within a few months.
“I went to visit my parents after two or three months and saw that the landscape was completely different,” she says.
The stone from Kamalj is used for road paving, and it is mined with the help of explosives, causing damage to the surrounding houses.
Documents that the journalists of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) had access to show that this quarry was operational even before it received all the necessary permits.
However, in the meantime, Jelena and other citizens gathered in the informal group “Hands off Mionica’s waters” found out about another issue that could have even bigger consequences. Kamalj operates in an area where excavating stones was previously forbidden due to the danger of compromising the water source. In addition, across the road from Kamalj, another company was exploring new mining sites.
CINS reveals that at the initiative of the owner of Kamalj, and later the Municipality of Mionica, a key document was changed, thus permitting stone excavation in the area of the water source. The Ministry of Health approved the report, although experts interviewed by CINS note that excavation could pollute the water source or even make it disappear entirely.
All this was in the interest of the owner of the Kamalj quarry, Predrag Lovrić, who used to be on Interpol’s wanted persons list.
The Kamalj quarry area before the start of operations, in June 2020 (left), and after more than a year and a half of operations, in August 2022 (right); photo: Google Earth / Drag the white circle left and right across the image
Excavating stone without a permit
The company C&LC Kameni agregati, which manages the Kamalj quarry, received in March of this year permission to mine limestone for the next 10 years, and its plan is to continue extracting stone from the area for the next 19 years.
Locals living near the quarry have already felt consequences.
“The house shakes like there is an earthquake, every time,” explains one of the locals, Ljubivoje Vasiljević.
His home, located around 100 meters away from the quarry as the crow flies, shows visible signs of damage. Cracks in the wall, broken roof tiles and a part of the ceiling collapsing, he claims, are the result of stones flying from the quarry due to blasting, which usually happens once a week.
On several occasions, Vasiljević tried to reach a settlement with the company regarding the damages, but to no avail. He claims that he was offered a job at the quarry, which he turned down.
Inspection: New illegal activities
In its new assessment from October of this year, the mining inspection found other illegal activities, such as the fact that the company did not determine safe distances and environmental protection requirements for its blasting and stone scattering activities. Until this is corrected, the inspection has banned the quarry’s operations. However, this decision is not final because the term for appeals which the company can file, after which the decision can be overturned, is still ongoing. The director of C&LC Kameni agregati, Petar Đurić, declined to make a statement until the conclusion of the inspection’s assessment.
Despite the fact that the company received a permit in 2022, it was illegally extracting stone in Kamalj during 2021, according to the Ministry of Mining and Energy‘s response to CINS. Last year, it extracted over 270 tons of limestone without the permission of the Ministry, for which the company later paid around 11.5 million RSD in damages.
The Municipality of Mionica told CINS that it was not aware of the illegal operations.
The owner of the company C&LC Kameni agregati is Predrag Lovrić. He was on Interpol’s wanted persons list, issued by the police from Vaduz, Liechtenstein. In its response to CINS, the Vaduz court explains that Lovrić is suspected of theft in 2004 as a member of the Pink Panther group and that the trial is scheduled for December of this year. The Pink Panther group specializes in robbing jewelry stores around the world.
Lovric’s lawyer told us that his client is on vacation and is thus unable to answer questions about the proceedings in Liechtenstein. The director of C&LC Kameni agregati, Petar Đurić, responded to the detailed inquiries about illegal operations, inspections and damages to Vasiljević’s house by stating that all of the company’s activities are in accordance with the laws and regulations.
Lovrić’s company excavates stone in the wider area of the Paštrić water source, where such activities were forbidden until recently. About 45% of households in the Municipality of Mionica are supplied with drinking water from this source. Three so-called sanitary protection zones have been determined in order to prevent works near the water source that could potentially endanger the water. Stone mining is not permitted even in the outermost third zone.
Kamalj was within this zone until 2021, according to the Research Project Study on Sanitary Protection Zones prepared by the Faculty of Mining and Geology.
Documents obtained by CINS show that in April of that year, the Municipality of Mionica asked the private company Gea Water Work to change the boundaries of the sanitary zones. In the request that the Municipality and the Public Utility Company Vodovod from Mionica sent, they asked for support for small businesses and a company that is very important for the municipality of Mionica. Although they did not state the company’s name, they did mention Kamalj and how the stone from this quarry meets the conditions to be used for the construction of the Lajkovac-Valjevo expressway.
The Municipality of Mionica says that before that, it had already met with the owner of the quarry who was interested in expanding it because the company’s work on state roads was of national importance. The Municipality claims that it told the owner about the sanitary zones for the protection of the Paštrić water source, as well as that any changes can only be made within the framework of the legal procedure.
“The municipality of Mionica has never asked for anything from the Gea Water Work company that was not according to the law,” reads the Municipality‘s response.
In the subsequent two months, Gea Water Work would change the Research Project Study and the boundaries in it, which the Ministry of Health would then approve.
Igor Jemcov, a professor at the Hydrogeology Department of the Faculty of Mining and Geology, says that in the new Research Project Study, no additional studies are listed which would justify changes to the existing zones, adding that the third zone was “shrunk” without any explanation.
“Water is a basic necessity, which means that they [water sources] cannot in any way be subordinated to any other interests, especially not to stone exploitation.”
The Ministry of Health did not respond to the questions we sent them.
Experts: It will pollute the water
Local residents fear that the quarry will pollute the water, but the Municipality says that regularly carried out lab tests show that the water is suitable for use. According to the Municipality, a new Research Project Study is set to be carried out.
Nevertheless, none of this prevents mining activities as the quarry continues to operate. In September, when CINS journalists were in the field, they witnessed firsthand that Kamalj was still operating in the zone that had once been under protection.
Experts interviewed by CINS have warned of possible consequences.
Igor Jemcov says that the composition of the rocks enables the rapid flow of liquids and pollution to the source. The former director of the Geological Institute, Branislav Božović, who is currently a member of an NGO called the National Ecological Association, agrees with this.
Božović explains that explosions increase the amount of lime in the water, while pollution can also come from motor oils from machines. According to him, due to quarrying, plants and forests are disappearing, which makes water heat up and evaporate more easily, causing further draughts. Eventually, the water source may disappear altogether.
“Mining opens up new cracks, crushes rocks and creates circumstances in which water can be lost, change its course, appear at a different source or sink to greater depths, whereby those sources cease to exist,” explains Božović.