Stop Illegal Hydropower in Valbona National Park

Updated 20 October 2016 (for ticket info, scroll down)

viewpoint-vs-bulldozerHello!  As many know, construction of the 2 “Dragobia Energy” Hydropowers (see below) started on 28 September, after a long quiet summer.  In fact, we are poised to fight, and we still believe we can win – certainly the fact that the developer has taken to threatening us shows that they believe we can and will win, once we get to court.  So far, the work which has been done can drop back to an ugly scar, but the final battles begin NOW.

Towards that end, we are incredibly lucky, in that internationally respected jazz artists Eda Zari and Elina Duni have rushed to join the fight, organizing a massive Protest Concert in Valbona on Saturday, 29 October.

Obviously, as the need is urgent,  it’s not possible to have a long planning process, so publicity, details and transportation plans are going out today, 20 October.

The concert is FREE!  You just have to get here.  Details are:

PrintMos ma prek Valbonën / Stop HEC-et (Don’t touch Valbona, Stop the Hydropowers)

Koncert-Protestë

Date: 29.10.2016  14.00-18.00

Jezerca Guesthouse, Valbonë Qendër,

Eda Zari & Elina Duni

Gent Rushi / Armend Xhaferi / Ilir Bajri

Linda Rukaj / Emiljan Dhimo / Ermal Rodi

Olsa Papandili / DJ Oda

Info:

FB: Shoq Selimaj

email: catherine@journeytovalbona.com

phone: +355 (0)67 30 14 638

mosmapreklogoAs we’re hoping to bring 1,500 – 2,500 people here, please be aware that everyone can’t possibly sleep here.  Therefore, we are organizing day-trip buses from Tirana, Prishtina, Gjakova and hopefully Shkoder.  You just have to buy your ticket before-hand, at any one of a number of convenient and super-cool places.  We were able to arrange slight discounts on the normal public transport cost, so make sure you buy a bus ticket before the day!  Details about where you can actually do this will be posted by tomorrow, the 21st.

 

DETAILS FROM TIRANA – bileta të dalin në shitje te Shtunen, 22.10, mesdita

Agjensia BALLA TOURS

Bileta kthyese: 1700 lek

Biletat shiten ne:  Balla Tours, Rruga “Tefta Tashko Koco” nr. 09, Prane Pazarit te Ri; ose Hemingways Jazz Club, Rruga Kont Urani; ose Tirana Backpackers Hostel, Rruga Bogdaneve

Nisja: ora 8:00, Te Sheshi Nene Thereza

Kontakti: 0692094750

DETAILS FROM SHKODER – bileta të dalin në shitje te Dielen, 23.10, mesdita

Agjensia KOPLIKU TRAVEL

Bileta kthyese: 1600 lek

Biletat shiten ne: TBA

Nisja: ora 7:00 , te Qender, Perballe Hotel Rozafa

Kontakti: 0682031125

 

DETAILS FROM KOSOVA

Prishtine:

Agjensioni BENI REISEN,

Bileta kthyese: 6 Euro/Person.

Biletat shiten ne Agjensioni Beni Reisen, te udhekryqi te Santeja dhe ne kafiterine SOMA

Nisja: ora 9:00, Te Pallati I Rinise

Kontakti: 044196565

 

Prizren:

Agjensioni BENI REISEN,

 Bileta kthyese: 6 Euro/Person.

Biletat mund ti rezervoni permes telefonit dhe pastaj i paguani ne autobus ose mund ti bleni drejtperdrejt ne Prishtine ne Agjensioni Beni Reisen, te udhekryqi te Santeja dhe ne kafiterine SOMA

Nisja: ora 10:00, Te ish Benafi

Kontakti: 044196565

 

Gjakove:

Agjensioni SHPAT TOURS,

Bileta kthyese: 5 Euro/Person.

Biletat shiten ne Agjensioni SHPAT TOURS

Nisja: ora 10:30, Te Stacioni I Autobuseve

Kontakti: 044134349

 

Peje:

Shoqatat bjeshkatare MARIMANGA dhe SH.B GJERAVICA

Jane parapaguar 2 autobus per 100 persona.

Bileta falas per 100 te paret qe regjistrohen

Nisja: ora 10:00, Te Hotel Dukagjini

Kontakti: 049661105

Along with not having much time to organize, there has also not been time to find funding.  We need to raise €4,000 in order to hire a stage.  We’re hoping to welcome 1,500-2,500 people, so before you ask (as I did) no, this isn’t something we can do ourselves. If you’re interested in donating, our bank transfer details are here.

 

 

 

Updated 26 March 2016

Hello!  I will leave the original content down below, but I thought I’d better update the situation, as the more we dig, the more people get interested, the more they dig, the more insane the story becomes.  It’s now looking a bit like Nero meets Gogol.

First of all:  So far we have found out about TWO companies with concession/licenses which could combine to up to 13 HPP on the Valbona River, 7 of them inside the Protected Area.  Then there is the old Tplani company which has been building since 2013, the little HPP by our family farm – as far as we can learn, after multiple requests phrased every way we can think of, this project has no license or environmental permit.  Finally someone leaked us a list of “HPP Coordinates” in Valbona, which includes a further TWO potential locations, about which we don’t know anything.  And All of THAT adds up to 16 Hydropower plants on the River, 10 of them inside the National Park.  Totally insane.  Anyhow.  First, here is the information we have on these companies.

1. “Tplani ShPK”

owner:  Flamur Bucpapaj

2-4 MW HPP

Began construction 2013

NO license or VNM registered with AKM for Company Name “Tplani” NIPT: L09702601M

Claims to be “Reconstructing existing HPP in Valbona from Koha e Enverit” but working in different location.

Has appeared on TopChannel news claiming he has documents.

Tplani HPP Locations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. “Dragobia Energy”  NIPT: K92025004T

owner:  100% owned by GENER-2 (Bashkim Ulaj)

2 plants, “Ceremi” and “Valbone” totalling 27 MW

Full GENER-2 concession is for 4 plants:  Ceremi, Valbone, Milloshit, Motina

Environmental License & VNM/EIA approved by AKM July 2013 (copies available)

Formal Complaint (40 pages) against this made by ShAV/TOKA 15 March 2016 (copies available in Albanian)

  • Claims to be also “Building asphalt road to Cerem and Montenegro”
  • License contains no description of roads or power lines, and no permission for these are given
  • Environmental Permit expired July 2015 (due to not beginning work within 2 years)
  • VNM/EIA of extremely poor quality with no impact assessment at all

GENER-2 HPP and Concessions insert A5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. “Valbona Project Company”  NIPT: L08322801L

Ownership structure:  VPC is jointly owned by 4A – AL company and RSW Inc, Canada.

RSW Inc was purchased in 2010 by another Canadian corporation AECOM.

9 plants, 3 within Protected Area (plus creation of Lake in Bujan)

Licensed 2013, Environmental License expired due to non-start of work

Environmental License & VNM/EIA requested from AKM 16 March 2016

Valbona Project Company

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of which (plus the 2 “leaked” locations) adds up to this:

Known HPP March 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So!  What have we been doing about this?

Well, the online petition is now over 1,000 people.  I think it’s time to deliver this soon.

Regarding Legal/Lobbying things.

  1.  We sent a letter on 4 Feb 2016 to PM Edi Rama.  After a month his office responded that they were forwarding our concern to the Ministry of Environment for review.  After another month, they forwarded us the response (2 page letter!) from Ministry of Environment which was GREAT and which I will post here eventually.  I’m not sure what they DO with that response.  My guess is “nothing” unless we push, so therefore we are going to respond by sending them the . . . .
  2. 40 page “Official Complaint Letter” against Dragobia Energy which we filed with AKM (the Albanian National Environmental Agency) on 16 March.  This amazing document includes a 19 page “Independent Experts’ Opinion” on the Environmental Impact Assessment (guess what, it’s a joke!) which may be the best summary of biodiversity in Valbona yet.  Feel free to contact us if you’d like a copy.
  3. WWF Presentation in Brussels.

 

 

 

Original February 10 2016 content:

Hello and welcome to everyone who is concerned about  hydroelectric development in Valbona, and in Albania’s protected areas in general.  In January the fight became real, immediate and crucial (explained below).  So here is everything we know and everything we’re trying to do about it, with the best information we can share, in beautiful technicolor transparency.

If you’re looking for What You Can Do,  The quick answer is:  Share this video reminding people that it was made FOUR YEARS ago – so our fears have come home to roost, tell people to look here (on this page) for more, up to date information or “like” our facebook page Journey to Valbona.  And BEG them to sign this petition.  Also, if you’re a real glutton for punishment, don’t forget the Vjosa River campaign, and get in touch with them too.
Locations of known licensed projects small

Current Situation:  According to some sources (ie, Riverwatch), there may be as many as 8 HPP licenses for developments along 25km of valley.  One (4MW) plant has been under slow construction since 2013.  Two more (27MW) cascade plants are to start construction as soon as possible (the “Dragobia Cascades” project).  However, in the absence of proper public consultations, it is extremely difficult to find out about licenses and projects until the bulldozers arrive.  And even then, no project billboards are erected:  for the 4MW project for example, we still don’t know who the developer is, 3 years later.

“So What’s the Problem?” If you’re on this page, you probably already know.  But here’s the basic framework of our objections:

  1. Short Term Destruction.  An immediate fear is the massive destruction that will be caused by the construction of these projects.  We have seen how the road construction went (no offense to Geci) – everything that got chewed up was just pushed into the river.  Construction here does not proceed with even a token attempt to minimize destruction of habitat.
  2. Long Term Destruction.  HPP has huge, irreversible effect on river ecology.  Many people think it’s just “Water in, water out.  No problem!”  But this is not the case.  Silt does not pass through the turbines, so the river fills in upstream from the Plant.  River temperature rises dramatically (Valbona River is blue because it is cold – there will be no more beautiful blue river.  Literally).  And species like the endemic Trout which need to move up and down the river are blocked by a series of impassible barriers.  They cannot breed.
  3. Extended Destruction.   In addition to this, the electricity needs to leave the valley.  This will necessitate the construction of massive High Tension towers, from the Plant through the whole valley.  The foot print of these towers is gigantic, and Valbona Valley is famously narrow (more like a crack in places) – so where are they going to put these towers?  They will take people’s fields, land . . . . and in narrow rocky areas?  I assume they will simply blast away the rock face.  (Maybe I’m wrong, I hope so – but this is why we need to see the planning documents!)
  4. Illegality.  Since 1996, Valbona National Park has been an IUCN Category II protected area.  That means it’s supposed to be under the second strictest possible protection – by European standards, in recognition of its amazing ecological value.  Areas are under proposal for UNESCO heritage, this is such a rare, pristine Environment in Europe.
  5. Destruction of Tourism.  For the past 10 years, this area has been undergoing a modest economic renaissance.  Until recently the poorest part of the poorest country in Europe, Northern Albania is suddenly being visited by literally 1000s of (mainly international) tourists every year.  They come for the hiking, the nature, the traditional culture . . . . and the peace.  Numerous foreign aid agencies have made dozens of projects to help develop this tourism in a sustainable manner, as it is seen that this is the number one business which will allow economic improvement without environmental destruction.
  6. Poor Governance.  The Licensing processes for these HPP are . . . . I can’t think of a polite word that summarizes the extent of it.  According to a WWF study, Albanian Environmental Impact Assessments are token – a few pages scribbled by one “expert” who’s never in fact been here (rather than the multi-volume, long-term studies that would be required by any other, functioning government).  On going monitoring is non-existent.  In the case of Dragobia Cascades, we can see that the public consultation documents consist of 1 page with 20 faked signatures signed after a lunch.  Compare this with what is standard in UK, according to a contributor there:  “a 3 week long public inquiry following years of public meetings” and “The Environmental Impact work alone covered volumes” – and as they point out, that was not even in a protected area!  Archeological permission has been given with “no study done” (so what is it based on then?!).

P1090275

All of the Above arguments break down into 3 general areas, or lines of attack.  Not everyone cares about all of them, but everyone probably cares about at least one:

  1.  It’s an environmental crime.  This is development within a protected area.  These areas have already been signed into law as warranting the highest level of governmental protection.  While it’s true that the various Albanian governments since their creation have dithered and done nothing about actually managing these protected areas, they none the less exist.  Albania is signatory to several major international agreements:  Under at least two of which — Aarhus and  the Bern Convention — the Albanian government is already breaking the law.  Aarhus demands informing and consulting the public on all development.  Under the Bern Convention, Albania has guaranteed to protect certain habitats and species.  Neither of these things has been, or is being, done.  We just need to document this and prosecute (simple!).
  2. It’s economic suicide.  This may not be immediately obvious.  It’s development!  Surely this is good for the economy, and that’s the problem?  Economy and progress vs. a Sentimental Attachment to nature?  Wrong.  Protected areas like Valbona are the backbone of the tourism industry.  Tourism is one of the most powerful economic engines in Europe today, accounting for 1 out of every 10 public sector jobs and, in countries like Croatia for example, providing more than 17% of the GDP in 2014 (aka: more than 7 billion euros).  And let’s not forget that for us in Valbona, this is healthy economic growth.  Each tourist who visits puts money directly into locals’ hands, and stimulates local economy and on every level – in hotels and restaurants, yes, but also in the businesses (accountants, printers, lawyers) who support those businesses, among guides and taxi drivers and even the little guy that makes the cheese.  Tourism pours money into our economy and moreover does so in a positive way, encouraging greater care of our environment, more respect for our traditions.  Now compare that to hydropower development.  Here is the Investment Offering being kicked around the internet by Gener 2 (Bashkim Ulaj’s company).  If you can make it past the appalling English to page 28, you’ll see that the profits being promised to investors are based on a $6/kW purchase price.  Yep.  According to the developer, the government is going to pay $6/kW for this electricity.  I believe this is something like 20x what we can sell it for domestically.  Not only is this project NOT going to help the Albanian economy, it seems likely to bankrupt it.  That’s just the short term problem.  There’s also the small problem that, at least according to The World Bank, climate change in the next 15-35 years is going to affect rainfall in Albania in such a way as to make hydropower extremely unreliable.  They recommend diversifying to solar.
  3. It’s bad governance.  One part of the Albanian government is rushing to destroy Valbona, while in another office, tens of thousands of euros are being spent to develop a Management Plan to protect it.  In yet another office, the Ministry of Tourism seems to be staring dreamily off into space.  Not sure what they’re up to (never sure).  As one friend of our in the UK just wrote: “Almost 650m Euros has been budgeted from the EU to assist Albania in the period up to 2020 … Interestingly 34% of this is to properly establish Democracy and Governance, 10% is for Environment and Climate Action.”  Well thank goodness, because left to itself the Albanian government seems fixated on running in circles and crashing into itself until it passes out.  And let’s not forget one last piece:  If Albania really wants to get into the EU, none of this is going to to fly.  All of these ideas:  a minimum percentage of Protected Areas which are actually protected, public consultations and involvement, realistic and monitored environmental impact assessments, and respecting internationally accepted environmental standards are required. Hydropower plants which ignore minimum flow requirements and which therefore destroy rivers are forbidden.  Albania is potentially hydropowering itself right out of EU eligibility.

And What Do we Do About This?

There’s only one thing that we can’t do, and that’s nothing.  So we’re jumping on not doing nothing as fast as we can.  Below is a list of the actions we are currently undertaking.  Please feel free to email me if you feel like you can help with any of them! catherine@journeytovalbona.com

  1.  We need more information.  We have all the documentation for the Dragobia Cascades project. Tplani HEC KerkesLetters are in the mail as I write, requesting licensing documentation for the Tplani HEC/Valbona, as well as asking for all information regarding Gener 2 activity in the valley.  According to law we should get a response within 45 days.  Fingers crossed!
  2. We need to start documenting the illegality of the license documents.  The really important ones are the Environmental Impact Assessments, which a recent WWF report say are mostly garbage (um, I think they used a politer word).  Here you go if you want to read it yourself: Albania_Report_Quality of EIA.  I’m not really sure how we’re going to proceed on that.  We need the collaboration of some nice Albanian biologists . . . . I notice that the Dragobia Cascades analysis of impact on fauna runs to a whole 53 words.  Two sentences.  Including the fascinating news that we have Jackals here.  Yep.  Stunning scientific insights here.  (Hint:  We don’t have Jackals.  They’re in the south.  But it’s evidence that much of the EIA (or VNM in Albanian) is probably copy-pasted).  Here’s that, if you want to take a look: 03-VNM – Qershor 2013.  In the meantime, “Thanks!” go to Balkanka in Bulgaria who have already sent us the form to fill out to launch a formal complaint with the Bern Convention steering committee.
  3. The easy one to attack is the public consultation.  001Cause there hasn’t been any.  Oh, except that one in Dragobi where 20 people, all from one family (including at least one dead guy) signed their approval.  So for this, we have the option of filing a public complaint with the local prosecutor (forged signatures) which will open a police investigation.  That’s nice and easy and will put a stop to any work, but 1) we have our doubts about the local prosecutor (who in the case of police forging people’s signatures on parking tickets judged “Forging signatures in Bajram Curri is common practice and therefore not a problem.”) 2) As they (hopefully) won’t start work until Spring, maybe it’s better to save this for when they do.
  4. Another possibility, once we have all the licensing information, is to try to track down funders or investors, and encourage them to break off support.  According to Balkanka, this can be easier than mobilizing EU disapproval.
  5. In the meantime, we are collecting local signatures (from actual living people!) in a counter document, demonstrating lack of public support for the Dragobia Cascades project.  With 3 & 4 together, that’s enough to initiate an Aardhus complaint which means . . . .
  6. We need a lawyer.  Actually we may have found someone in Tirana to work with.  Seems promising.  On the other hand, we have to pay a lawyer, which means . . .
  7. Fundraising!  This is incredibly, mindboggling difficult in Albania.  No Albanian bank supports e-commerce, and paypal will only allow payments to be received by accounts which are linked to a VISA card.  Only 2 banks in Albania issue VISA cards, and they both demand a 1,000euro cash deposit to secure the credit card (surely making it not a “credit” card, at all?).  However, thanks to friends in Switzerland, we are trying to set this up.  We will let you know as soon as it is possible.

Okay – that’s the 6 steps needed to fight the individual licenses, as environmental crimes, and where we are with that.  But that’s not really enough, is it?  Because we need to make sure this issue is put to bed, once and for all, or we will spend the rest of our lives fighting one new development after another.  And that means pressuring the Government.  Towards that end we are:

  1. Sponsoring an online petition.  Bear in mind that this only works for people with email, and while that may include most of the known world, it does NOT include most of the local population.  So this one is outreach.  In less than 7 days, it’s gained more than 600 signatures and been picked up by several international NGOs.  Great!  The hosting website, SumofUs, offers another interesting function . . . .
  2. Scheduling Events like . . . Email campaigns!  Now that we’re getting organized, we may reach out through the petition campaign as well as our other usual routes to ask people to “email bomb” a specific ministry on a given day.  Or Media outlets.  Why not?
  3. Looking for Media Attention.  Here’s an article we just published in Kosovo 2.0.  We’re reaching out to some filmmaker friends, too.  Voice of America called us and is looking to do a piece, and rumor has it that Balkan Insight Reporting Network is looking into it too.  If you have any journalist friends, or are yourself a journalist . . . . hint, hint.  Here are some recent reports on Vjosa in Albanian News: Top Channel, 10Feb2016, Ora News, 10Feb2016.
  4. Trying to bring pressure from the top down.  (Or the outside in).  Albania is all wiggly-butt about the EU.  Albania wants to keep the EU happy.  If EU officials, offices or functionaries start writing to the Edi Rama administration, asking them what the heck they’re up to, we think it will make them verrrrry nervous.  This is fun!  Here’s a letter one supporter from the UK just sent to his European Parliament representative (we took their personal details out of this version).  Letter 130715 confidential details removed  Read it!  It’s really fun!
  5. Bringing the Tourism Industry to Bear:  Not sure how this is going to go, but for sure everyone working in Tourism in Albania – or with Albania – should be worried about this.  So right now we’re working with a couple of other like-minded tour operators to try to organize a coordinated pestering of . . . . yep, Edi Rama.  If you’re involved in tourism, please get in touch.
  6. Motivating the International Diplomatic Community in Tirana:  Just as soon as we get the tourism people organized, we’re going to move to start good conversations with the various Embassies.  Again, if you have a link to any of these, please either write to them yourselves, or get in touch with me.
  7. Coordinating everyone (and everything, everywhere, all the time.  Just kidding).  Another ally in Tirana is organizing a round table discussion to bring together all the interested people – sports, hiking clubs, tour operators, environmental ngos, the works.  Then with everyone working together, we’ll probably have to start . . . . .
  8. Organizing protests.  Although as far as I’m concerned, a weak protest is worse than no protest at all, so this has to come down the road aways, after we done all this other support-building.  Which of course involves . . .
  9. Educating the Public.  Four years ago, people up here thought hydroelectric development was great.  Hydropower is still commonly sold as “Green Energy.”  Nowadays, everyone is a good bit more suspicious, but we need to grow this into a firmly educated and committed position.  So we’re looking for nice Albanians to come up here and just talk to people.  We’re not telling you what to say.  We believe that the truth says it all.  If you have any interest in being part of these local conversations, please do get in touch.  In the meantime, anything written in Albanian can be sent out through facebook, where it will reach the most possible local people, and help them to join this conversation.  So if you feel like it, jot down your thoughts, and send ’em along. This needs to be a public conversation, and I can’t do it all!  (Especially not in Shqip).  Here’s my address, once again:  catherine@journeytovalbona.com

Okay.  I think that’s it for now.  After one week at the computer and talking,talking,talking, this is the best I can do to clearly explain the issues, and let you know where we are with them and what you can do.  I just want to add a word to thank all of you who have written, signed, suggested, shared, helped and shrieked.  We really do believe we can fight this thing, and that we can even win.  And it’s your support to date which makes us think so.  On behalf of us all: THANK YOU.

River Image

13 February.  Okay:  More stuff keeps coming in, so I’m going to start posting it all as resources here:

  1.  WWF campaign in Montenegro to stop a HPP there. (How do we get one of these?)
  2. Besnik Haxhijaj’s GREAT video about Fly Fishing.
  3. Some very weird document about a court case between Tplani and Gener 2 . . . .?

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