Reprinted from Mjedisi.al
Valbona: Ligji dhe Spekullimi, by Lavdosh Ferruni (translated by Magdalen Ulyatt)
Valbona residents who are suing the government and the company building a Hydropower (HP) in Valbona have come out in force in Tirana. On Tuesday, 10 October, at the 11th hearing in the case they spoke to media, calling attention to the fact that the Valbona is “groaning” under concrete mixers and shaking from explosions day and night. Many of the residents have no drinking water as the explosions used to open the tunnels into which the river will be re-routed have diverted the underground drinking water supply, and visitors to Valbona will be stunned at the changes in the valley from photos they have seen.
There has been an Albanian law in effect (Law No. 8906, dated 6/6/2002) which theoretically defends protected areas. The lawsuit by the residents of Valbona and the local NGO TOKA seeks to establish precedents for the implementationof Article 6 of this law, which states what actions are, and are not, allowed within a National Park.
The history of the implementation of this law is complicated and paradoxical. When the state and the construction company come to an agreement they use section of point 3 of this Article, which says that within the protected area may be pursued “other activities that are not explicitly prohibited by point 2 of this Article” after having been granted an environmental permit. This is preceded by point 1 which explains that the National Park is declared to have unique national and international value as it has natural ecosystems that are minimally impacted by human activity, where plants, animals and the natural, physical environment are of particular scientific and educational significance. Point 2, which must be read in relation to point 1, lists only 11 activities that are explicitly forbidden, as examples of the thousands of potential activities which would obviously also be prohibited. Some of these other activities one might consider acceptable, such as distribution of animals and non-native plants or intensive reproduction of hunting animals, and could be open for debate. The law also clearly prohibits the construction of roads, highways, railways, urban areas, high voltage lines and long-stretch oil and gas systems. It clarifies that even if it is a major work of national interest, the Park should not be touched. Naturally, not all human activities that are prohibited could be included in the list of examples. It is not necessary to say in the law, for example,that it is forbidden to build a nuclear power plant or a garbage incinerator in a National Park, as it is outside the context of point 1; why a National Park area is created. Point 3 lays down certain permitted activities such as those of a scientific, archaeological or palaeontological nature, or temporary storage or use of agrochemicals, and point 4 clarifies that permission from the park administration is required for the passage of pets into the park, the erection of lighting and temporary structures, the collection of medicinal plants or mushrooms, canoeing, or similar activities. Again these points are both preceded by and subject to point 1: all activities within the Park are ultimately governed by the preservation of the ecology for which the Park was declared.
Thus, understanding the law, it is ridiculous even for the layman to hear the Ministry of Energy ask: “Does the law forbid the construction of a Hydropower Plants ( HPP) in a protected area?” To avoid this idiotic question a new law passed this year clearly states that it is forbidden to build HPPs in a National Park. In fact this should have been unnecessary, as the law was clear before and it is only in the absence of the correct application of the law that it can be endlessly debated. According to this logic, the law would have to be re-written to include every single inappropriate idea, such as the construction of a large resort, as is currently proposed in Divjaka National Park.
The case of the Valbona National Park, where the river would be taken and inserted into tunnels, destroying the local ecosystem which has hitherto been “minimally impacted by human activity,” is an indisputable affront to Albanian law.