The dam that threatens the last wild river in Europe was approved without consultation

The data provided by BIRN show that the investors and responsible public agencies left out of the consultations for the Pocem hydropower plant project on the Vjos River the residents of the areas that are flooded, local institutions and environmental organizations.

The course of the Vjosa river. (c) G. Subic

Sokrat Rrokaj is a resident of the village of Shkozë in the Sevaster administrative unit of the Municipality of Selenica and for many years he has chosen agriculture as the best way to provide a living for his family. On his 2.5 hectares of land he plants bread grains and alfalfa.

“I have about 4 dynams of alfalfa that we feed the cattle and the rest I have wheat, corn and beans because this land supports these products,” says Socrates, as he adds that together with his three sons, the land is their only source of income.

However, the means of livelihood of the Rrokaj family, their land and the agricultural products they grow on it, are already in danger of disappearing as Shkoza is one of the villages that is expected to be flooded by the construction of the Pocem hydropower plant in the course of the Vjosë river.

According to the elder Islam Islami, similar to Sokrat Rrokaj, 110 families in the village of Shkozë have invested everything in agriculture, cultivating the land they own.

“As a family, I have 3.5 hectares of land, where I have 750 olive roots with which I earn 1.4 million ALL per year. In addition, we have 300 sheep, which we feed with alfalfa and clover, so we planted the land to feed them,” Islami said.

There are 14,000 sheep and goats in the entire village of Shkozë, and Islami points out that there are families who have spent more than 200,000 euros on livestock.

“With the construction of the Pocem HPP, we are exterminated,” he warned.

The Pocem HPP is one of the many hydropower plants designed in Albania during the communist period and its construction was awarded in May 2016 through an unsolicited concession to two Turkish companies, united in the company Kovlu Energji Sh.p.k.

This hydropower plant, which will be built along the Vjosë river, is expected to have a 25-meter high dam and is expected to overturn large agricultural areas in 7 villages located in the municipalities of Selenicë and Mallakastër.

But despite the great impact that this HPP will have on these two municipalities, local leaders and residents of the area state that they have little or very little information on the energy project, since the construction company has not held public consultations for the drafting of the Impact Assessment on Environment (EIA) in the municipalities affected by the project.

Uncertain about the lands that will be flooded by the dam and the impact that the project will have on the villages and their lives, many of the residents of the area are against the construction of the hydropower plant.

“As a family, I have no information about this HEC,” said Sokrat Rrokaj. “Only some environmental associations have informed us that we will be flooded, so I don’t want this hydroelectric plant to be built,” he added.

Environmental organizations and activists also complain that despite the interest in the project, they were not invited to participate in the EIA consultation, which according to them does not meet the legal criteria. They underline that the only consultation held for the project was done in the city of Fier, an area not affected by the construction of the hydropower plant.

The firm Kovlu Energji was not available for comment, while its main shareholder “Çinar San” did not respond to questions regarding the allegations about the EIA and the lack of public consultations.

The consulting company “GR Albania,” which was contracted by “Çinar San” to hold public consultations on the EIA, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the National Environment Agency, the institution responsible for issuing EIAs, told BIRN through a written response that in the case of the Pocem hydropower plant “it has fulfilled all legal obligations.”

Here you can find the full article (in Albanian) published by / BIRN.

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