Local governance and environmental activists stand together against the construction of hydropower plants on the Lumbardhi river in Peja.
This week saw an outburst of reactions toward plans to build a series of hydropower plants, HPPs, on the Lumbardhi river in Peja.
The plans were revealed on Tuesday, February 19, at the Interministerial Committee for Strategic Investments, where it was stated that proposals presented by Kelkos Energy fulfilled technical criteria to be considered as strategic investment projects. The following day, Wednesday February 20, the mayor of Peja, Gazmend Muhaxheri, wrote to Endrit Shala, the Minister of Trade and Industry, MTI, expressing his concerns over the meeting.
In the letter, Muhaxheri indicated that the Peja Municipal Assembly has approved its Municipal Development Plan, which halts any investment in hydropower due to HPPs causing severe damage to the environment in the neighboring municipality of Decan. Kelkos Energy has three operating HPPs in Decan, namely Lumbardhi, Belaja, and Decan, although only the Lumbardhi HPP is shown to have been awarded a licence of operation from the Energy Regulatory Office in Kosovo.
The letter further stated that Peja Municipality had only been informed of the meeting a few minutes prior to it starting, and requested a five day prior notification for any project which would be implemented in the municipality.
Shala told Prishtina Insight that Peja’s mayor and its citizens should not be worried. “The mayor of Peja has the right to say that if the construction plan is not adequate and damages the river bed, such investment will not be allowed as it breaches the regulative plan, and, let’s understand each other, this investment cannot happen without the consent of the Municipality of Peja,” the Minister said.
On the other hand, Article 22 of the Law on Strategic Investments which covers the ‘Transfer of the right to use public and socially-owned immovable properties by the interested investor,’ states that the Kosovo Government, through a simple majority vote in the Kosovo Parliament, can transfer the right to use a socially owned immovable property for strategic investment, either by the vote itself, or by voting to apply the Law on Expropriation, circumventing municipal authorities.
Adriatik Gacaferi, a resident from Decan who protested against the construction of power plants in western Kosovo, echoes the view of the municipality of Peja, and considers HPPs enormously damaging to local ecosystems.
“Such an investment would bury tourism in the city and the environmental consequences would be devastating; the river would dry, Peja would lose the freshness that the river brings to the city, the wildlife would remain without water and fish could easily disappear,” Gacaferi told Prishtina Insight.
For Gacaferi, the case of Decan should mobilize people to protest against HPPs foreseen to be built on the Lumbardhi river. “Since HPPs started to be built, many villages as well as the town started to have cuts to its water supply, especially during summer. This can happen in Peja too,” warned Gacaferi.
Rajan Arapi, the Head of Urbanism and Environmental Protection at the Municipality of Peja shares Gacaferi’s concerns.
“The construction of hydropower plants on the Lumbardhi would have catastrophic consequences for the environment, tourism and would also lead to degradation of the landscape, which has been protected since 1968. It would also damage the flora and fauna,” Arapi told Prishtina Insight. “The worst thing is that the danger of possible floods would also increase for citizens.”
Kelkos Energy is part of the Austrian energy group, Kelag, which is engaged in similar projects across the ex-Yugoslav states. The company’s engagement in HPP projects has been accompanied by high criticism and strong community resistance in the region.
The construction of HPPs has also seemingly put different government institutions in conflict with one another.
For instance, the Environmental Strategic Assessment for the Spatial Planning of Bjeshket e Nemuna National Park, published by the Kosovo Environmental Protection Agency, KEPA, an institution within the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, MESP, states that: “The development of new hydro-power projects should be discouraged as they create cumulative impacts on river systems, in terms of disruption of the landscape’s character and its beauty, as well as affecting the functioning of habitats.” Part of the national park is located in the Municipality of Peja.
Issues over the construction of HPPs have also previously risen in other parts of Kosovo, especially in the Sharri National Park. The most recent problems occurred in the Sterpce Municipality, where citizens protested against the building of an HPP in January.
A protest in the city of Peja has been called for Monday, February 25 under the slogan: ‘Do not touch Lumbardhi.’
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