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News 18 May 17

Albanian Villagers Ask Court to Stop River Power Plants

People in four villages have asked a court in Tirana to nullify decisions allowing the construction of power plants that they say will wreck the environment of the Valbona River, BIRN has learned.

Fatjona Mejdini
Valbona river. Photo: BIRN/Ivana Dervishi 

Villagers with the support of NGOs in the highlands of Albania have gone to court to try to overturn a decision approving construction of two hydropower plants on the Valbona River. This is the first big environmental case that is supposed to be discussed in court.

Since last February, the villagers supported by environmental groups and artists have been protesting against decisions to build some hydropower plants on the river that the government made between 2009 and 2013.

They say construction of the plants will damage the environment and tourism potential of an area nicknamed the Albanian Alps.

Their protests and discussions with government have fallen on deaf ears so far, and some of the concessionary companies have already started building the plants despite strong local opposition.

On Tuesday, 27 inhabitants of Rrogam, Valbone, Dragobi and Cerem villages, together with the NGO Toka and the Save the Albanian Alps association submitted a lawsuit to the Administrative Court of Tirana

The lawsuit asks the court to nullify the contracts for two hydropower plants that are under construction in what is designated a National Park.

“We ask the court to nullify the contract concession and environmental permit, the building permit and the permit to use water reserves,” the statement of the villagers reads.

They say the procedures that the Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Environment and other state agencies have followed in granting permits have been flagrantly violated.

“In opposition to the law on protected areas, the above institutions have approved a major building project in a protected touristic and environmental area,” the lawsuit reads.

“They also have granted permissions without prior consultation with the public. These depart not only from the country’s constitution and laws but also from the Aarhus Conventions, ratified by Albania in 2000,” it continues.

The convention empowers people with the rights to access easily information, participate effectively in decision-making in environmental issues.

Albania’s Ministry of Energy and Industry declined to comment when asked by BIRN about the lawsuit.

Catherine Bohne Selimaj, a local from the area, told BIRN that they expect the first court hearing within two weeks.

She said that during last six months, construction of the plants had started and companies were using bulldozers and dynamite for the work.

“Tirana continues to keep quiet. We cannot wait anymore to stop the destruction of our natural legacy and economic future,” she said.

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