A few days ago, the outgoing Rama 1 government handed out in the last minute the concession for a hydropower plant in the Shala river to a company which is currently in court for legal violations related to another hydropower plant.
The 35-year concession for the hydropower plant, which will incontrovertibly destroy the river at the center of the National Park of Theth, was given to a conglomerate of companies: Çinar-San Hafriyat Nakliyat Insaat Turizm Sanayi Ve Ticaret LTD.STI, Shala Energy PLC, and Falak Properties LLC. The conglomerate was the only company taking part in the public procurement procedure, making it the de facto winner.
According to the concession, the hydropower plant is to be built within 36 months and will cost €84.5 million. The entire concession procedure raises two serious issues: the destruction of the natural wealth of the country and doubts about corruption.
Destruction of Theth National Park
The construction of a hydropower plant in Shala is in itself a policy that is destructive toward nature and tourism. The area around Theth, in the north of Albania, is one of the most beautiful and treasured in the country and one of the major tourist attractions of the northern Alps. If the hydropower plant were built, it would risk altering especially the streaming bed of the Shala river, which flows through the entire Theth valley and is one of its main attractions.
In a public statement, the Ministry of Energy claims that during the drafting process of the project care was taken not to intervene in the protected areas in the northern Alps and that the impact of the hydropower plant on the environment would be minimal.
Environmental experts, however, claim the opposite. In an interview with a local TV station, environmental expert Mark Rupa states that “the construction of a hydropower plant in the Shala river would be lethal for this natural pearl, which recently has become one of the preferred tourist destinations.”
He added that “for more than two years the project for the sustainable development of the Theth National Park has been pending in the ministry, and this gives one to think.”
Across, on the other side of the Alps, several hydropower plants have been approved by the government in the Valbona National Park, which already is causing the destruction of the natural environment. It now seems that Theth will await a similar fate, with the destruction of the livelihoods of the families that have built up and invested in the local tourist industry as a result.
The concession to this specific conglomerate raises the suspicion of corruption, not only in the way the public procurement procedure was handled, but also because of the company who won it.
The Turkish company Çinar is currently in court for the falsification of documents and other legal violations in relation with another hydropower central it won a concession for. Nevertheless, it appears that the government decided not to take this fact into account when deciding on the fate of Theth National Park.
Even though Çinar is a company without any experience in the field of hydropower and is of a modest size, it was given the concession for the construction of the controversial hydropower at Poçem in the Vjosa river.
Construction work is currently suspended by the Administrative Court because of irregularities in the documentation. The court has found hiatuses and legal violations in the environmental declarations necessary for the drafting of the Environmental Impact Evaluation (VNM). The company has failed to conduct in situ studies of the terrain near the Vjosa river, and there has been not evaluation of the impact of the construction work on flora, fauna, and ground water, which are a necessary part of every VNM. The Administrative Court is expected to give its verdict in the coming weeks.
Moreover, the construction of Çinar’s hydropower central in the Vjosa river led to great public resistance both in Albania and Europe, as it would destroy the last “wild” river in Europe, whose streaming bed has remained untouched by large-scale construction work, and as such has great value for scientific research and tourism.