Valbona: Law & Speculation

Reprinted from


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.

Hydropower Fight Update

September 12, 2017

Greetings All!

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.

Elisa Veini on Valbona


Tot voor kort was Valbona een paradijselijk oord voor rustzoekers. Een dorpje van een paar honderd zielen, heel veel ongerepte natuur, een guesthouse en een bus die eens per dag naar de stad rijdt. Die tijd is voorbij: het hoog op de Albanese Alpen gelegen dorp is in een mum van tijd een regionaal centrum van milieuactivisme geworden. ‘De dagen waarop ik de kunst van het nietsdoen kon beoefenen zijn voor mij voorbij’, zegt Catherine Bohne, een Amerikaanse die sinds acht jaar in het dorp woont. ‘Het is vijf voor twaalf voor Valbona.’

“Change is a Trickster”

Interesting article in the Guardian: Paul Kingsnorth on the environment of environmentalism.  In the context of the recent and on-going world-wide political shake-up, where has, does and could the environmental movement put its focus and sense of founding principals.  Or, to put it another way, why are the jerks winning, and what are they harnessing that is important for all to consider?  A sense of place – which can either be the well-spring of nationalism and xenophobia, or could be a way of tapping into people’s love for – and guardianship – of their home.

© Andreas Woeltjen

Wilderness Society Speaks up for Valbona Valley NP

Published 14 March 2016, on the EWS Website:

Wilderness in Albania in Peril!

“Albania is considered as a significant portion of the last piece of large scale wilderness in Europe!

A short glimpse from the outside can create a feeling that finally at least in this country a large piece of real European wilderness can be secured. Several protected areas have been established in the past years to create conditions for longterm protection of biodiversity and natural values of this country. However, a closer look at the situation reveals that only limited interest was expressed to protect the most important heritage of this country – Wilderness.”