From: Alice Taylor
Environmental Organizations Call for Halt to Vlora Airport Project

Twenty Albanian environmental organisations have condemned the start of work on the Vlora airport, claiming it is in violation of the law and that the environmental study was not up to scratch.

At a meeting at the Tulla Cultural Centre in Tirana on Friday, November 26, representatives said the Environmental Impact Assessment Study was “carried out with a deep lack of professionalism” and was “clientelist”. The results of the report have paved the way for the construction of the airport in the Vjosa-Narta protected area.

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Rea Nepravishta from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Albania spoke on behalf of the organizations and an additional four environmental experts. They say the permit, approved by the National Council of the Territory, is illegal as the environmental study was not approved, and the decision was taken in violation of several international conventions that Albania is party to.

Sulejman Sulce, the author of the assessment, told BIRN that the allegations were raised on a non-technical draft and the final report would be available soon. He said the findings of the report were valid, and some 18 public hearings had also been held.

The Vjosa-Narta Protected Area is an important corridor for bird migration from the Adriatic to Africa. Flamingos and various rare species either call the area home or visit it to nest seasonally. Environmental organizations say the Assessment did not consider this, nor the risk of birds colliding with aircraft. They also noted several technical errors including confusing the names and images of certain birds and using the wrong terminology.

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Taulant Bino from the Albanian Ornithological Association told BIRN that it was all a “ridiculous farce” as “everything has been predetermined.” He added that before the Assessment was approved, the construction permit had already been signed off and that prior to that, containers and machinery had been sent to the area.

Activists considered this illegal, and they said they were considering suing the project. In fact, court cases are already underway to get information as the relevant institutions have refused to communicate with them through official channels.

They also noted that the European Commission in its 2020 progress report noted that the airport in Vjosa-Narta is “in conflict with national laws and international conventions for the protection of biological diversity, which Albania has ratified.”

Prime Minister Edi Rama broke inaugurated the works on the airport over the weekend.

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The airport will be built through a 35-year BOT concession by an international consortium, including Mabatex Group (50%), owned by Behgjet Pacolli, Kosovo’s richest businessman and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Turkish YDA Group (48%).

The investment would cost some EUR 103 million and will take about three years to complete.

The economic feasibility of the airport has been questioned by many, as the new airport will be only 100 km from the Tirana International Airport, in a country with a population of 2,8 million and a EUR 13-billion economy.

However, the investor is guaranteed the return on investment, because the contract provides for “revenue guarantee”—up to 138 million euros from the public budget will be paid to the investor over a 10-year period if the investment fails or the operation is not profitable.

The Impact of the Vlora Airport on Albania’s Protected Narta Lagoon