The battle for Vjosa reaches the court, the lawsuit against the HEC of Poçem

By Ivana Dervishi / BIRN

View from the Vjosa river in Tepelena. (c) Ch. Baumgartner

Three environmental organizations in defense of the Vjosa river and 38 residents affected by the Pocem hydropower plant sued the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Energy and the National Environment Agency on Friday, while asking the court to declare the contract invalid.

The battle for the protection of the Vjosë river moved to court on Friday, after three environmental organizations and residents affected by the Pocem hydropower plant filed a lawsuit with the Administrative Court in Tirana, where they demanded the absolute invalidity of the Pocem hydropower plant concession.

The organizations EcoAlbania from Albania, Riverwatch from Austria and EuroNatur from Germany, as well as 38 residents of the affected areas sued the Ministry of Energy and Industry, the Ministry of the Environment and the National Environment Agency and demanded the absolute invalidity of the concession procedures, as well as the finding as illegal of the contract with the company “Kovlu Energji” for the HPP in Počem.

The plaintiffs considered the construction of the hydropower plant as a plan for the destruction of Vjosa and requested through the lawsuit ‘the suspension of any decision or promise for this hydropower plant’.

“We are determined to defend this request in all links of the justice system. It is about the protection of one of the most valuable natural areas not only in Albania, but in the whole of Europe”, declared Olsi Nika, coordinator of the campaign “Saving the blue heart of Europe” from EcoAlbania.

Environmental organizations and residents say that state institutions have constructed the procedure and the concession contract in a non-transparent manner and oppose the HEC in Pocem on several arguments.

In the lawsuit submitted to the court, they argue that the Environmental Impact Assessment for Pocemin is out of standard and 60 percent of it contains reasoning copied from other projects.

Secondly, the lawsuit is based on the claim that the residents of the villages of Kutë, Çorrush, Sevaster, Shkozë, Golimbas, Mazhar, etc., who are affected by the Pocem HPP project, were not part of the preliminary public consultation, which is a condition for continuity of the energy project.

EcoAlbania, an environmental organization committed against the construction of dams on the Vjosë River, has estimated that in the village of Kuta, 90 people will be forced to relocate due to the Pocem hydropower plant, while most of the agricultural land and olive groves will be flooded. from the HPP reservoir.

Vjosa is one of the last wild rivers in Europe, which has great natural values for the Balkans and the continent.

Despite Prime Minister Rama’s electoral promise to declare Vjosa a National Park and ban the construction of hydropower plants, in July 2015 the Council of Ministers opened the way for the procedure for the concession of the Pocem hydropower plant.

In November 2016, the Ministry of Energy announced the granting of permission for the construction of the hydropower plant and the signing of the contract with the Turkish company “Kovlu Energy”.

After the revelations of the plans for the HPP in Poçem, environmentalists in Albania and Europe engaged in awareness campaigns where they demanded the cancellation of the plans for the hydropower exploitation of Vjosa, arguing that the area should be used in ways that are more friendly to nature and in harmony with local residents.

228 scientists from different countries of the world joined in September the effort of Albanian activists and researchers to protect the Vjosa river and asked for a 3-year moratorium to give experts time to fundamentally study the ecological assets of the Vjosa.

The Albanian government’s plans to build hydropower plants on the Vjosë river have also been criticized by the European Parliament, which has called on the official Tirana to consider the proposal to turn the valley into a national park.

Article published by / BIRN (in Albanian).

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