From: Alice Taylor
Albanian Court to Hear Case on Hydropower Plants in Zall Gjocaj National Park in September

The Administrative Court of Appeals will review in September the lawsuit of the concession company “Seka Hidrypower” to produce electricity through the “Zais” hydropower plant in Zall Gjoçaj, a national park in northeastern Albania. 

The company is seeking the reinstatement of its power generation license, revoked by a court of the first instance on January 18, 2021. Residents are seeking the complete and final revocation of their license. 

The trial date was expedited after residents appealed to the Court of Appeals for the trial to be heard sooner. The judge of the case is Ardian Dvorani.

In January, the Administrative Court of Tirana decided that construction could continue for the “Sekë” and “Zais” HPPs in the National Park Zall-Gjoçaj. On January 18, the Administrative Court then stripped the hydropower plant construction company of the right to produce energy within the protected area.

The Sekë and Zais hydropower plants received construction permits on October 3, 2018. The two hydropower plants in question are part of about 100 hydropower plants to which the Rama government has given construction permits.

Residents of the village of Zais have opposed the projects, arguing that these hydropower works would deprive them of water resources and damage the area. They have been protesting since the beginning of 2019. Protests have also been organized in Tirana, in front of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Zall-Gjoçaj was declared a category II National Park in 1996 and it covers an area of some 140 hectares.

In 2018, through a decision of the Council of Ministers, this park was merged with Lura Park, creating the Lura-Mali i Dejës National Park, with an area of ​​20,242.78 ha.

According to the decision of October 31, 2018, it’s forbidden to carry out construction or activities that cause change to the natural state of the ecosystem in this area.

Any infrastructural construction must respect the functions of the protected area, ecological values, ​​and those of the natural and cultural landscape. Despite this, on October 3, 2018, a construction permit had already been issued for HPPs Sekë and Zais in Mat and Mirditë.

Residents have sued the beneficiary company in the Administrative Court, claiming that the company has not conducted public consultations on the construction of HPPs. According to them, the private company has received only the signatures of the villagers of the surrounding areas who have nothing to do with the issue, thus avoiding real confrontation with the affected residents.

This is not the only case of HPP construction in National Parks. In Tropoje, residents near the Gashi River are horrified that dams and power plants are being built on the river and within the boundaries of the Gashi National Park.

In a protected area, such works should be banned and prohibited. Nevertheless, work continues. Local people said the construction is already impacting their livelihoods further downstream in Bujan, where the number of fish in the river has dropped considerably.

Similarly, issues with signatures from local people have also been an issue in Valbona. Genr2, the company behind the construction of several dams and plants in the area, have been accused of using the names of dead people, people who don’t live in the affected area, and the ID numbers and names of people without their permission in an attempt to show support for the projects.

Locals interviewed by Exit said they had also been offered money to provide their signatures to support the projects. Tropoje is one of Europe’s poorest regions, with unemployment rates of up to 70%. The majority of inhabitants live off the land combined with state welfare of around EUR 30 a month for a whole family.