#donttouchvalbona‬ ‪#‎mosmaprekvalbonen‬‬‬. It’s a final call. A final countdown. A hashtag fast becoming very popular among Albanians and foreigners, nature lovers. Tomorrow on 25 June, at 9.00, in front of the Ministry of Energy in Tirana, supporters of Valbona Valley pristine nature will gather against the construction of 11 hydropower plants planned to be built along the river, hoping to get a reaction from the Government of Albania.

“This protest is really the next big event to draw attention. Then we will be concentrating on the legal and diplomatic community support aspects” one of the main active supporters, Catherine Bohne, told AgroWeb.

The organizers, TOKA - The Organization to Conserve the Albanian Alps, Eco Albania and World Wildlife Fund states that there are three main reasons of objection.

On an environmental basis, the hydropower plants will destroy the area. The river destruction has a massive, irreversible long-term effect. The Construction of just one of these projects ("Dragobia Cascades") will destroy the entire eastern slope of Kollata Mountain to construct a 3m wide delivery tunnel. Kollata incidentally includes the highest peak in Montenegro, one of the most popular weekend destinations for hikers. It will destroy Cerem Valley, rerouting the whole river. And it will destroy the southern face of Gjarper Mountain, as well as people's farms, fields and homes. It will be the end of eco-tourism here, which is entirely based on offering pristine nature.

On an economic level, the alteration of one of Europe’s most pristine landscapes into an industrial zone will destroy the flourishing tourism industry. These hydropower plants are each individually less than 15MW (this way they can take advantage of "Small HPP" status, which potentially grants state subsidies and entitles them to more lax controls) - but this also means that they just don't add up to that much production.

Certainly nothing that makes any significant contribution to the economy. Dragobia Energy's production estimates are based on using 12.6m3/s of flow, while elsewhere in their own studies, they report that the river has at most 7m3/s during one month of the year, and most of the time the stream flow is something like 3m3/s. According to the experts, the plants themselves will provide no long-term employment or financial benefit to the local community.

On a legal basis, according to the organizers the projects has failed to conduct genuine public consultations, ignoring Valbona Valley status as a Protected Area. The construction company claims to have received the approval of residents in the area who have put their signatures in a list. However, residents claim that the list is a fraud because it holds the name of some people who died years ago. Catherine told AgroWeb earlier that: ‘It is quite clear that the licenses and various permits should most definitely not have been, based on the quality of the applications submitted. The Environmental Impact Assessments not only make no mention of any negative impacts at (which is impossible), but indicate an absolute lack of knowledge regarding biodiversity, and fail to mention the fact that the area is an IUCN level II protected area, and has been for 20 years.’

The concessionary contracts for the construction of hydropower plants on the river dates from 2009 to 2013. Many environmentalists have joined locals of the Valbona valley in a campaign to stop the building of hydropower plants on the wild river. They hope Ministry of Energy will dismiss these contracts, even there is a risk that licensed companies would demand compensation from the state.

The chairman of the Parliamentary Commission of Economy, Mr. Erion Braçe was earlier declared against the hydropower plant construction. ‘The alibi of arbitrage is totally not normal’, Mr.Braçe said, adding that ‘there are so many irregularities and illegalities in those contracts’.

The communities of Valbona Valley, Cerem and Gashi are promoting an extensive campaign. They also published a letter to the Prime Minister, asking him to lead the fight to eliminate Hydropower development in Albania's protected areas.

‘It is one of the most beautiful corners of the world that I’ve had the privilege of seeing, breathing, and tasting’, a Russian blogger describes Valbona Valley. But the hydropower plant construction will be the end of this pristine beauty. So let the river run wild. Hands off from Valbona Valley!/AgroWeb.org/