The construction of two HPPs of Gurshpata in the Librazhd area has been followed by hundreds of massive protests by the local residents in the area who have objected the projects fearing they would remain without water. Environmental engineers and experts joined the local residents while the former claim that the construction out of any criteria of HPPs would dry out streams and rivers.
By Fatmir Popja
The construction works for the concessionary HPPs in the Librazhd area have been followed by many protests that quite often spiralled out of control and serious incidents have been recorded. Environment protection activists, but not only, joined all the protests organized by the residents in the affected communities by the “epidemics” of the construction of hydro power plants. They have demanded in unison an end to the barbaric exploitation of the water resources by organizing many protests and denouncing with clear facts the abusive cases. In many cases, they have sent petitions and complaints to state authorities to take the necessary measures to face the catastrophic situation created in this respect while Librazhd is one of the most problematic areas at national scale.
The number of applicants for concessionary permits for the construction of HPPs in the area of Librazhd is the highest in Albania, a figure that is unjustifiable by the competent authorities given the geographical space of Librazhd. The large number of permits has sparked the strong reaction of the community and of local authorities, something that has been followed by many protests not to allow the construction of the major part of the HPPs. The biggest protests against the construction of HPPs were held in the Polis Commune since the community there was totally ignored and the interests of the local residents were seriously hampered. Incidents were recorded in the protests in at least two cases while police special forces were used to disperse the protesters.
On August 2, 2014, the police forces of Librazhd arrested three women and issued arrest warrants for seven other citizens who were accused of violent and bloody attack against the local police forces during the protest against the construction of a HPP in the Polis village. According to police, those persons together with more than one hundred others, during the protest against the construction of a HPP on the stream of Gurra in Gurshpata, had forcefully blocked the equipment and the machineries of the constructing company claiming that the company that had received the construction permit was not respecting the legal criteria for the construction of the HPP. The protesters said that since the work had started two years ago they didn’t have water for their arable lands. Because of that they started the protests not to allow the construction of the HPP in Gurshpata since the entire area risked of remaining without water.
Since 2013, some 180 protests have been organized in the District of Librazhd by the community in the area who objected the construction of HPPs and renewing of the concessionary contracts as well as their impact on the environment. More than half of the protests were organized by the residents of in the villages of Polis commune against the construction of “Gurshpata 1” and “Gurshpata 2” HPPs. Even though they initially reacted strongly, they allowed the construction of “Gurshpata1” HPP. But following several months of calmness, the construction of the HPP “Gurshpata 2” commenced something which sparked their strong reaction. Since that day, the local residents stood up and didn’t stop their protests for several months because according to them they were never told and asked about the construction of another HPP which dries out centuries-old water resources and wipes out some 200 hectares of agricultural lands not including here arboriculture, vineyards, and pastures.
In front of such facts, the residents took the matter to the Elbasan Prosecution Office on 20/12/2013 asking the prosecutor to investigate concessionary permit. But the penal proceeding that was accompanied by many documents and filed with the Prosecution Office by the Chieftain of Polis village, Faik Bufi, was never seriously taken into consideration. In such conditions, on 03/12/2013, the chieftains in the villages of Polis commune sent a letter to the Prime Minister, Edi Rama, Minister of Economy, Minister of Energy, Prefect of Elbasan Region Arben Kamami, Police Commissariat in Librazhd, and Prefect’s Office in Librazhd. Through that letter, the local residents in Polis commune complained to the highest state authorities for all the serious problems the construction of another HPP caused to that village. According to them, “Gurshpata 2” HPP would dry out all the potable water resources and the HPP, projected to exploit the irrigation canals owned by the community, was an unprecedented example. Also, another concern presented by the residents of the villages was the fact that the Polis-Qendër village is built on an area with unstable land and the construction of the HPP was going to trigger, as it had happened, massive landslides damaging houses as well.
According to the denouncement of the local residents, even the “Gurshpata 1” HPP was getting water supply not on the determined site but 15 meters above the stream as well as it used 300 ml tubes to collect water from several resources something which is not specified in the project. The residents say that the constructing and the concessionary company had not respected the decision of the Polis Commune dated 15/06/2006.The investments of the company fall against the community interests but the denouncements of the latter, even though they were made public and pursued in an institutional way, didn’t stop the construction of “Gurshpata 1 & 2” HPPs. Meanwhile, the local residents complain that following the construction of HPPs, pollution was caused to the environment because the land was sinking and started to be displaced due to the construction works.
In the morning of February the 15th, 2015, representatives of 300 families in the three villages of Polis commune in the District of Librazhd, organized a protest for several hours demanding the nullification of the construction permit for a new HPP in the area. Protesters considered as illegal the construction of the HPP and demanded the nullification of the permit which according to them was abusively given by the state authorities. Polis commune inhabitants claimed that the construction of another HPP would bring catastrophic consequences for the lives of 300 families and 1000 inhabitants. According to protesters, a functional HPP was already in that area, another one was being built, and construction works were going to start for another one. If the construction of a third HPP goes ahead, that will have catastrophic consequences for the Polis community warned the local residents.
Protesters were revolted even by the indifference shown by the local power, which didn’t support them during the protest. Protesters claimed that they were threatened from representatives of the “Gurshpata 1&2” HPPs winning concessionary company, so they ceased claiming anymore for the construction of those HPPs. They continuously asked for support of competent bodies to solve the problem, as well as reviewing the permit, because according to them, the permit was illegal regarding the place where the HPP would be constructed. Protesters warned that they would do everything possible to stop the construction of HPP in Polis Gurshpata, but no one neither paid attention to listen to them, nor took into consideration their concerns. The winner of concessionary contract has always declared that all the works are legal and based on the respective permit.
According to the engineer Molnar Kolaneci, the idea of constructing small HPPs all over the territory of the country, with no limits, resulted to be wrong and having consequences in the water basins. The way these projects are conducted and the realisation of a part of them, is demonstrating that we are at risk of having no streams and rivers anymore. The Librazhd district is very rich in water resources, and for this reason, Albanian and foreign investors are rushing towards these water resources with an unprecedented “cruelty”. Kolaneci denounces the problematic situation that the “Gurshpata 1&2” HPPs, in the former commune of Polis, part of the new municipality of Librazhd, are creating. According to him, HPPs are built in one of the smallest branches of Gostima River that is one of the most important branches of Shkumbini River. “The smaller the stream where HPP are built, the bigger the environmental impact. When we speak about the environmental impact, among other things, we mean even the impact in agricultural and farming development of the area. By the time the implementation projects were conducted for these HPPs, the rules for environmental protection have been very weak, due to the fact that it was a new phenomenon. Based on the environmental permit of ‘Gurshpata 1 & 2’ HPPs, it was noticed that in order to protect the ecosystem and the natural stream, the construction company shall make possible that 15% of the natural stream continues to flow in the stream bed. This quantity shall be maintained throughout the operation of these HPPs”, explains Kolaneci.
Engineer Molnar Kolaneci tells us that by the end of 2012, the law on integrated water management was approved, from which emerged a new criterion for the ecologic water that in the concrete case of Gurshpata HPPs are more favourable for the community. This is stipulated in Law 111/2012, “On Integrated Water Resources Management”, Article 39, paragraph 4 (Q355). Based on the verification conducted under its premises, it results that we have to do with a non-criterion exploitation of the water streams of “Gurshpata 1 & 2” HPPs. There, based on the data of the projects, the ecologic water results to be 37 l/s, while, in the case of “Gurshpata 2” HPP this value goes to 66 l/s. If we refer to the Law of 2012 that has entered into force for the ecologic water, it results that the above-mentioned values are going to be duplicated. “Regarding the above-mentioned, there is a need to make a request to the company that operates these HPPs to update the project based on the new law on water. Results of this recognition in ‘Shpat 1 and 2’ HPPs, demonstrated that investors do not implement the rules determined in the concession contracts regarding the ecologic water. In ‘Gurshpata 2’ HPP, not a single drop goes in the existing river bed. Out of any criteria exploitation of water streams remains a potential risk after the ‘Gurshpata 1 & 2’ HPPs construction”, explains Kolaneci.
According to Kolaneci, another serious concern is the lack of implementing the criteria of concession contract, particularly for ecologic water. Actually, the monitoring of ecologic water remains orphan, and nowhere in respective decision-makings is explicitly stated the institution responsible for that. On the other hand, the problem of irrigation water is being monitored by local residents themselves, who in cooperation with local power and basin authority make decisions that are mandatory for the investor. “Based on several controls, it results that in the HPPs activity, no attention is paid by investors to the issue of ecologic water. The situation goes beyond this, and there are attempts that they transform the river into a private property, and do not allow anyone carry out monitoring, this is one of the most serious problems, and the state shall undertake measures ”, states Molnar Kolaneci.
Environmental specialists have warned the destruction of the mountainous rivers and streams flows, with plenty flows in Albania. According to them, the actual biggest threat is the abusive construction of tens of HPPs in the district of Librazhd. Earlier and recently, there were plans to build HPP’s dams in all the mountainous streams that serve as important branches of supplying water to the Shkumbini River. The Ministry of Energy has allowed the application to build tens of dams across the mountainous streams that permeate the geographical position, where this district with large water resources is located. According to environmental specialist, the construction of these dams, in the majority of cases would destroy the unusual ecologic values of small rivers in this district. Specialists explain that construction of HPP dams would destroy this unique ecosystem and its high potential for a sustainable exploitation of natural resources in the future.
The Gurshpata HPP project is actually in the implementation process, but according to the environmental expert Gavrosh Zela, Albanian Centre for Sustainable Development, many abuses were noticed there regarding the pre-determined criteria. According to him, state authorities are not conducting an accurate monitoring regarding the project implementation and environmental permit. He tells us that because of this, the alluvial system will degrade, in almost all the longitude of mountainous streams of Librazhdi that supply the Shkumbini River, whose supplying branches are very important for the migration of fishes that will find no paths in the future.
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