Bajram Curri, Tirana, New York, April 11th , hundreds of local community, joined by supporters from all over Albania gathered at the Museum, in front of the statue of Bajram Curri to protest the construction of 14 hydropower plants along 30 km of the Valbona River. This is the first public action of a campaign started by local people and supported by National and International NGOs, to protest the destruction of one of Albania’s most precious and best-loved natural areas, and one of Albania’s most popular tourism destination.
Nine of the 14 hydro-powers fall on just 20km of the Valbona River which are inside of Valbona National Park, an IUCN Level II protected area since 1996, and the keystone of the National Park of the Albanian Alps which is due to be instituted this year, creating one of the largest protected areas in the Balkans.
Local people object to the Plants for 3 major reasons:
1) On an environmental basis, the plants will destroy the area, putting most of the river and several of its tributaries into large 2.5-3m tubes. This will not only cause a massive and irreversible damage for the river, but it will destroy much of the surrounding landscapes.
2) On an economic level, the conversion of one of Europe’s most pristine landscapes into an industrial zone will destroy the burgeoning tourism industry. The flow of the river, some 3m3/s during much of the year, cannot generate power sales which will compensate the loss of tourism income, and will not in any meaningful way contribute to the national economy. The plants themselves will provide no long-term employment or financial benefit to the local community.
3) There is widespread outrage at the manner in which the projects have ignored or circumvented Albanian law, failing to conduct genuine public consultations, instead submitting short lists of 12-20 signatures the majority of which are either fraudulent, or belong to employees and relatives of the companies involved in this project. Their valuations show no depth study of the biodiversity of the area, ignoring its status as a Protected Area. That these documents, which do not stand up to any examination, should have been accepted by the responsible agencies as adequate is a scandal of national proportions, and seriously calls into question the competency of government officials. Although Management and Zoning plans for the Protected Area have been prepared which would clarify the legal protection of the area, their ratification has been blocked to date by the Ministry of Energy.
We ask to the Al Government to stop these HPP-s in Valbona and invest more in the tourism and agricultural development of the National Park.
The Bajram Curri Demonstration and its simultaneous Protest in Tirana and New York aim to draw public attention to the situation, to hand out as much information as possible and to raise public awareness. A petition for the deliberative institutions by the protesters will be sent to the local government. In the meantime, since learning of the project plans in January 2016, concerned local people working with a coalition of National and International NGOs have rushed to collect documentation, filing official Administrative Appeals. Should these appeals fail to be effective, lawsuits will be filed, in a historic precedent for Albania.