German environmentalists slam Albania’s new airport project in protected area

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 5, 2018 11:52

German environmentalists slam Albania’s new airport project in protected area

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  • "It goes without saying that the construction of an international airport in this sensitive location will pose irreversible damage to the ecosystem of Narta-Vjosa and even the whole Adriatic coast," EuroNatur director Gabriel Schwaderer writes in an open letter to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama

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Young Dalmatian Pelicans in the Narta-Lagoon © Taulant Bino

Young Dalmatian Pelicans in the Narta-Lagoon
© Taulant Bino

TIRANA, Feb. 5 – Germany-based EuroNatur Foundation has slammed the Albanian government’s hurry in proceeding with an international airport project in a protected southern Albania area as incompatible with preserving the local ecosystem.

The reaction came on February 2, the World Wetlands Day, one day after the Socialist Party majority approved a bill in Parliament, paving the way for fast-track contract negotiations with a Turkish consortium to build a new international airport outside the southern Albanian coastal city of Vlora at a site which is part of a protected lagoon and ecosystem.

The new airport, set to become the country’s second international airport, is projected to be built along the Narta Lagoon, where one of Europe’s last wild rivers flows and the endangered Dalmatian pelican feeds, the German environmental foundation says.

The projected airport lies within the Narta-Vjosa Protected Landscape, one of the largest near-natural wetland complexes along the Adriatic coast and is internationally recognized as a Key Biodiversity Area, with a central role for bird migration along the Adriatic Flyway, German environmentalists say.

“It goes without saying that the construction of an international airport in this sensitive location will pose irreversible damage to the ecosystem of Narta-Vjosa and even the whole Adriatic coast,” EuroNatur director Gabriel Schwaderer writes in an open letter to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, calling for an environmental impact assessment that meets international standards before concluding project negotiations.

“We are convinced that a serious assessment can only conclude that the planned airport is incompatible with preserving the Narta-Vjosa ecosystem,” the EuroNatur director says.

“We believe that Albania as part of the most important multilateral environmental agreements (Ramsar, Bern Convention, Bonn Convention), cannot afford to lose one of its natural crown jewels along the Adriatic coast,” concludes the letter to the Albanian prime minister.

flamingo

The Narta Lagoon is also a valuable habitat for flamingos. © Ferdinand Bego

The Narta-Vjosa Protected Landscape, also a valuable habitat for flamingos, has also been officially nominated a candidate Emerlad site as an area of special conservation interest.

EuroNatur and several other European environmental watchdogs have also condemned the Albanian government’s approval without proper environmental assessment of hydropower plant concessions along the Vjosa and Valbona rivers, two of Europe’s last remaining wild rivers.

The Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania, PPNEA, a local environmental NGO, had earlier warned the airport’s proposed location at Akerni village, some 20 km outside Vlora in an area where a small military air base used to operate, threatens the local ecosystem’s integrity.

The Vjosa-Narta Protected Landscape is a 194 km2 area rich in wetlands and aquatic birds encompassing the Narta Lagoon along with the delta of the Vjosa River and its surrounding areas with freshwater wetlands, marshlands, reed beds, woodlands, islands and sandy beaches.

“The construction of this kind of infrastructure threatens the ecologic integrity of this area because of the habitat alienation during the investment phase and disturbance during the operational phase. In addition, this construction violates the regulatory and legal norms on protected areas,” PPNEA warned in late January as the government approved fast track negotiation procedures with a Turkish consortium.

The Albanian government has not yet responded to environmental concerns, but stressed the importance that a second international airport would have on breaking the monopoly the Tirana International Airport has enjoyed so far, leading to lower ticket prices and giving a boost to the emerging tourism industry.

Infrastructure Minister Damian Gjiknuri says the Turkish consortium has offered to invest €100 million for the new airport in Vlora in details that will be determined during a 90-day negotiation period with government representatives.

The Turkish consortium that has offered to build the Vlora airport is composed of Cengis, Kalyon and Kolin Construction, three companies also involved in the construction of Istanbul’s third airport, a multi-billion dollar investment that is set to become the world’s largest.

While the airport investment will be private, the Albanian government is expected to guarantee the concessionaire a minimum annual income in traffic guarantees in return for the investment and operation over a period of time that will be determined during the negotiations.

Meanwhile, local residents see the construction of the new airport as a new opportunity that gives added value to their lands, where the salt business is one of the few employment opportunities in the local marshlands.

The airport, whose construction is expected to begin this year, is located 133 km, a 2-hour drive from Tirana, making it competitive only in case it attracts low-cost carriers.

Due to expensive prices and low number of low-cost carriers, more and more Albanian passengers have been travelling through neighboring Kosovo, Macedonia or Montenegro airports in the past few years.

The Tirana International Airport, which until mid-2016 enjoyed exclusive rights on international flights says it supports “any initiative that aims to stimulate the economic development of the country, including the establishing of airports that enable a freer movement of Albanian citizens, as well as foreigners wishing to visit Albania.”

Last year, the Chinese-run consortium managing TIA, the country’s sole international airport, handled a record 2.6 million passengers, an 18 percent increase compared to 2016.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 5, 2018 11:52