September 12, 2017
The ninth hearing in “27 inhabitants and NGO TOKA vs. Albanian Ministries” took place on Monday, 11 September at 14:00 in the Tirana Administrative Court of First Instance on Rruga Don Bosko. This was the first hearing after the summer break for courts, and was to have been the first “Judicial Hearing,” at which we move beyond procedural issues to get to grips with the actual legal arguments against the concession contract of the Dragobia Energy Hydroelectric Project. As it turned out however, after registering who was present, the court announced that one of the 3 judges assigned on 20 July had requested to be absented from the process due to an unspecified “conflict of interest,” and that the court had not yet decided whether to validate this request or not. The next hearing was scheduled for 26 September at 11:30 in the morning.
It is of course disappointing to see how easy it has been for the defendants, led I think mainly by the Gener-2 lawyer, to use court processes to delay the case, while construction continues as fast as it can in Valbona.
We note that the ninth hearing was attended by the head of Brecani security, the contracted company responsible for delivering what we could call “personal messages” about Gener-2’s unhappiness with the court case. Usually rather unpleasant messages (taken subjectively).
While we continue to follow the law with this court case, we are considering taking further measures. In June 2017, after learning in court that the developer had been operating without a valid construction permit since May, we filed a request to regional and national inspectorates to visit the works and determine the truth of the situation. Should the developer be found to be working without valid permits, we requested they exercise their authority to stop the work. The only response to date has been from one inspectorate, who reported that “the works have a valid environmental permit” without any reference to the question of their construction permit. Thus we are now finding funding to lodge suit against the inspectorates, for failing to perform their due responsibility and function.
While it is somewhat disheartening that such cavalier disregard of legal process is still possible in Albania today, we feel it is therefore all the more important to pursue – doggedly if necessary – some consequences for the agencies in question. At the very least, the struggle in Valbona should help to set better precedents, moving forward.
As for what is happening, in situ, in Valbona . . . it isn’t good. Excavation of the Valbona River portion of the HPP has begun. For the past month, a fleet of massive dump trucks have been moving up and down the valley, often in convoys, dumping all the material (rocks, boulders and sand) excavated in flood plain of Valbona Qender (the “center” of Valbona), so that what ought to be the flower of Tropojan tourism now looks more like something from the Syrian war. None of this is mentioned in the planning documents submitted to the National Environmental Agency, summarized in the Environmental Impact Statement. Local gossip says that one man, who claims that his historical family land is located in the riverbed (affected by the floods of some 100 years ago) has given permission for them to dump the material on “his land.” No one is happy about this, but no one knows what to do about it.
The bright spark on the horizon at the moment are the negotiations between Gener-2 and TOKA facilitated by a dedicated group of embassies and foreign authorities. Thanks to this effort, we have had the opportunity for Gener-2 and TOKA (Goliath and David) to meet in person. Gener-2 has offered to make their – until now private – studies and reports available to TOKA for analysis. We hope this process will move forward in the following days. Should the reports show that the developer has concrete and practical plans for minimizing damage to the National Park, I suppose we’ll all feel better. If, however, their research does not hold up to the standards they claim, then we have better arguments for pressuring the Albanian Ministries to intervene.
That, I’m afraid, is all the news from Valbona.
Thank you as ever for your support.
Catherine for TOKA, and Valbona.