In January 2016, local people in Valbona Valley National Park learned of the plans to build as many as 14 hydropower plants along 30km of Valbona River, 8 of them wholly within the National Park.
The procedure and content of the projects’ environmental impact assessments demonstrate non-transparent decision making, disregard for local communities’ well-being and indifference towards high conservation value ecosystems, including a complete disregard of the fact that the development is occurring in a protected area.
If even one of these projects is realized, it will seriously impact and potentially destroy the tenuous ecosystems of this national park and compromise the purpose of a protected area as an ‘extremely valuable conservation area set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for sustainable development’.
Therefore, for the past 2 years, much of our lives has been devoted to fighting these projects, with lawsuits filed in administrative court against the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure in May 2017 (currently pending appeals) and against the National Territorial Council in November 2017, and more legal actions about to be launched. These suits are an important step in forcing the government to respect and implement Albanian environmental laws for the first time ever. At the same time, actions, protests, lobbying, and fund-raising to support all that continue. The battle so far has been notable in helping to change the national perception of protected areas and National Parks, from distrusted, ‘mysterious’ zones created by the government to limit the rights of inhabitants to national treasures belonging to the people.
Unfortunately attempts to push the government and courts to behave “correctly” and abandon ties with powerful local oligarchs (ie, rich businessmen) has proved a slow and painful path. Our first lawsuit was thrown out by the court after 14 hearings and 5 months, as they ruled – not “for” they hydropower, not responding to any of our concrete legal arguments, but – that the people have no right to sue or criticize the government, and that their Aarhus rights are not applicable (the right to information, involvement in decision making and judicial recourse in development decisions with environmental impacts). The argument is something like: “If the government makes a decision, then it is clearly de facto in the public interest, and the people cannot therefore sue against their own interest.” And the government still maintains that small HPP, even inside a national park – which is now clearly forbidden under the protected areas law passed in June 2017 – is in the public interest, “creating jobs, energy, roads and schools” (Tirana First Instance Court, February 2018). This despite the fact that one restaurant in Valbona creates more jobs for local people than the entire HPP works, that by the developer’s own claims the Dragobia Energy projects “are not profitable, but being done instead as a gift for the people of Valbona” (mtg @ Ministry of Energy, July 2017) – who however will not gain energy from them, that non-essential road building is actually illegal inside a national park, and that the project in no way “creates schools” which in any case is surely not the responsibility of privately owned industry?
At any rate, the fight continues . . . We must be getting somewhere, however, since at the end of January, the developer Gener-2 and their wholly owned subsidiary Dragobia Energy filed suit against TOKA and President Catherine Bohne Selimaj personally for 20 million lek for “damages created to the image of the companies by appearing in national media.” You can follow us and join in by watching our facebook page.
You can read more details on our old webpage HERE.
Many, many thanks are due to WWF, who have been a tremendous support and partner.