Important win for the Vjosa River in Albania
The Vjosa is the one of the last big free-flowing rivers in Europe. When the Albanian government commissioned a Turkish company with the construction of a large dam, the coalition of conservation under the leadership of EuroNatur, together with 38 affected residents, filed a lawsuit against this project. Vladimir Meçi, attorney of the plaintiffs: “This is an important step for the protection of the Vjosa and a promising day for the rule of law in our country. It means that affected residents and NGOs can actually expect that their concerns are being heard and genuinely examined in Albanian courts.”
The Vjosa case was the first-ever environmental lawsuit in Albania. The Ministry of Environment and the Turkish construction company have 15 days to appeal this decision. A second-instance decision can be expected in fall of 2017. Grounds of this lawsuit were an inadequate EIA as well as the absence of proper public consultation of affected residents. For the EIA commissioned by the project applicants and approved by the Ministry of Environment, no in situ examination was carried out, no data on occurrences of species or projected impacts on ground water was conducted, and 60 percent of the text was simply copy-pasted from other assessments and thus not even site-specific.
“This decision shows the importance of fighting disputed hydropower projects on a legal level – not only in Albania but in the entire Balkan region. Many – if not most – of the 2700 projected hydropower plans in the Balkans contradict national and European legislation. We will prepare further legal actions against project that we perceive as unlawful,” said Gabriel Schwaderer, EuroNatur CEO.
The Vjosa is the last big wild river in Europe outside Russia. Entirely unobstructed, she flows through inaccessible gorges and sections with enormous gravel banks and islands on her course of almost 270 kilometers from the Pindus Mountains to the Adriatic Sea. The Albanian government under Prime Minister Edi Rama intended to have a Turkish company construct a hydropower project within the ecologically most valuable stretch of the Vjosa.
“WWF Adria is welcoming the court's decision as a step in the right direction and hopes that Albanian courts will maintain the same level of scrutiny when evaluating whether EIAs in Albania are done properly and according to the highest standards and best international practices. We have supported the campaign for protection of Vjosa River through Balkan Rivers Tour as our goal is to preserve the free-flowing rivers from Slovenia to Albania. Conservation of rivers, river habitats and freshwater ecosystems in general is one of key challenges in the region and WWF Adria supports the call of institutions and decision-makers in Albania to protect the river Vjosa,” said Martin Šolar, director of WWF Adria.