Valbona Valley residents, activists protest dam construction

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 5, 2016 16:37

Valbona Valley residents, activists protest dam construction

Story Highlights

  • "There is now a race against time in Valbona to see who will ultimately succeed. On one side we have the local people, who speak up for environmental protection, for the preservation of Albania’s resources of nature and culture, who express concern for sustainable, multi-faceted economic development, and who desire the exercise of due legal process and the implementation of Albanian law," Bohne wrote on Facebook. "On the other side we have the development firms and sadly seemingly the Albanian government, who while acknowledging that the concessions should not have been granted, seem to feel no concern for the ultimate outcome of their realization."

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TIRANA, Oct. 1 – Construction on the first of 14 proposed hydro-power plants has started in the Valbona Valley, despite protests by local residents and environmentalists who say they will destroy tourism in the pristine area in northeastern Albania.

Twenty bulldozers were deployed on the site to lay the groundwork for the construction of two hydro-power plants, according to local activists. Residents in the area surrounded the bulldozers and vowed to not allow the destruction of the beautiful valley, much of which is a national park.

Catherine Bohne, an American who has made the valley her home send a short letter to foreign embassies, environmental organizations and media outlets describing how the “mountains echoed the terrible noise of destruction.”

“Today is a very dark day for Valbona — despite the blue skies and good weather — for Albania as well. If such thing can happen here in clear violation of the law, than the future is very dark for the whole country,” she wrote.

Bohne, who has appeared in several television programs in Albania, is a voluble one-person tourist information service for Valbona. She has also become a voracious advocate of the valley.

She said that the beginning of work for the construction of the hydro-power plants is a terrible news for residents and that “they would never accept such a destiny due to the government’s lack of vision for one of Albania’s most beautiful attractions.”

Residents of Valbona say the government has not included them in the consultations process for the approval of licenses for the construction of dozens hydro-power plants.

They have called for more transparency considering that the confidentiality clause in the concessionaire contracts, makes it impossible for them to have any information about the 14 hydro-power plants that will be built on the Valbona river and its tributaries.

They have received support from several local, national and international NGOs.

Residents have also hired an attorney, mulling the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the government of Albania.

Toka, an environmental protection NGO for northern Albania has issued an appeal to the National Agency for Environment, demanding an immediate stop on all work, a review of all documentation and a national reevaluation of the planned HPPs in preserved areas. According to them, the process of granting HPP licenses in a designated protected area was filled with legal holes.

Sali Berisha’s former centre-right government awarded licenses to three companies to build 14 hydro-power plants in the area between 2009 to 2013.

Authorities from the Ministry of Energy argue that any attempt to terminate these concessionaire contracts would result in financial damages.

Officials say that the concessionaire companies are entitled to sue the state and demand compensation.

Director of the National Agency for Protected Areas Zamir Dedej told Voice of America that the construction of hydropower plants in these preserved areas in the national park is wrong, however any cancellation of a concessionaire contract would be too costly for the state.

“These hydro-power plants should not be built in these preserved areas. Community awareness is increasing. We have a strong reaction from international organizations as well. The concessionaire company however has all the license and documents required to start work for the construction of the HPP” he said.

Alarmed environmentalists have urged Prime Minister Edi Rama to declare a moratorium on the construction of hydro-power plants and evaluate the legitimacy of decisions adopted by the previous administration.

The Valbona Valley is the most important touristic attraction in Albania’s northwestern Tropoja region. It was made a national park in 1996.

“There is now a race against time in Valbona to see who will ultimately succeed. On one side we have the local people, who speak up for environmental protection, for the preservation of Albania’s resources of nature and culture, who express concern for sustainable, multi-faceted economic development, and who desire the exercise of due legal process and the implementation of Albanian law,” Bohne wrote on Facebook. “On the other side we have the development firms and sadly seemingly the Albanian government, who while acknowledging that the concessions should not have been granted, seem to feel no concern for the ultimate outcome of their realization.”

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 5, 2016 16:37