Shushica Canyon on Bjeshket e Nemuna Mountain; Photo/BIRN

Illegal Construction Raises Concerns for Kosovo’s (Un)Protected National Park

The municipality of Peja/Pec has come under scrutiny for initiating construction without proper environmental approvals in the protected canyon of the Bjeshkët e Nemuna mountains.

At the first sight, it looks like a mountainous unpaved road. However, it is the remains of a project which aimed to supply water to several villages surrounding Kosovo’s Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park. 

In the summer of 2023, the municipality of Peja/Pec began preparing the mountainous terrain in the protected canyon of ’Shushica’ in Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park for the insertion of water pipes. The project was meant to supply several villages with water, but the work was started without the necessary permits.

Shehu, the company awarded the project’s contract, was only able to finish construction of what looks like a 600 metre road before deciding that the steep mountains required a change of the pipe’s path. The local ecosystem had already been damaged by the time the route was changed. 

Shushica Canyon on ‘Bjeshket e Nemuna’ Mountain; Photo/BIRN

Arsim Shehu, representative of Shehu, told “Kallxo Përnime” that, when the work started in 2023, “the intervention in the protected area was done under the supervision of the officials of the National Park, Bjeshkët e Nemuna… who are responsible for the protection of the ‘Bjeshkë’. This intervention was also done under the supervision of (regional water supply company) Hidrodrini officials, whose task is to propose hydro-technical solutions that do not damage the protected area”.

The National Park official, Jusuf Lajci, admitted on Februrary 6 in a phone conversation with park director Fatmir Morina that Lajci had conducted an inspection during the Shehu’s construction but had not taken any further measures as he did not encounter anyone on site.

The mayor of Pejë/Pec municipality, Gazmend Muhaxheri, admitted to the Kallxo Përnime show on February 16, 2024 that the municipality did not apply for relevant environmental and water permits from the Ministry of the Environment. 

“We will apply for a permit,” Muhaxheri pledged on the Kallxo Përnime show, while arguing that the water supply project should be allowed in the national park. 

“That part shouldn’t be under protection, the national park should be at an altitude of 750 metres above sea level. The national park is not something that cannot be constructed on,” Muhaxheri added.

Spanning more than 62,000 hectares, ‘Bjeshkët e Nemuna “has been recognized by Kosovo as a national park since 2013. It is located across the territory of five municipalities: Pejë/Pec, Gjakovë/Dakovica, Decan/Decane, Istog/Istok and Junik.

The damage may have already been done. The mountain road as originally proposed was built until it reached the middle of the canyon. However, the route of the project was changed as soon as the workers encountered logistical problems with the rocky terrain.

Morina, the National Park’s director,  “told Kallxo Përnime, on February 6, 2024, during a visit at the National Park that “what the municipality did is illegal, and the ministry should not grant permission”.

Two days after the visit, the national park filed a criminal complaint against the opening of the road, blaming the contractor for the damage but not the municipality of Pejë/Pec.

Shehu, however, claimed that his company should not face the blame “considering someone else gave the order,” referring to the municipality. 

Muhaxheri claimed in the same Kallxo Përnime interview that the municipality and the water supply company ‘Hidrodrini’ initiated the project to bring water to fifteen villages more than a decade ago. 

Ali Berisha, mayor of Pejë/Pec municipality in 2009, initiated the water supply effort. Berisha lost the 2013 mayoral election to Muhaxheri before completing the project. 

Technical evaluations deemed that the inflow from Radac river was insufficient to supply water to the villages in need. As mayor, Muhaxheri directed that the water for the residents of these villages should be supplied from the Shushica River, located in the protected area, instead. 

The Acting Director of the Inspectorate at the Ministry of Environment, Elbasan Shala also emphasised that such work should not be done without ministry permits, which involve an assessment by environmental experts.

Shushica Canyon on ‘Bjeshket e Nemuna’ Mountain; Photo/BIRN

The mayor insisted that if the ministry does not grant permission, they will go to court, emphasising the importance of having a water network for the citizens.

In response, Shala explained that water permits come after the environmental permitting process, highlighting the need for proper measurements by Hidrodrini or another entity.

A municipal council member from the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, Naim Bytyqi, also considered the municipality’s actions a severe violation, causing damage to the canyon through rock excavation without a feasibility study.

“I want to know from an economic point of view, how come that the company didn’t notice the rocky terrain”, Bytyqi asked.

and 26/02/2024 - 16:15

26 February 2024 - 16:15

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