Montenegro relaunches assault on wild beauty | WWF
Montenegro relaunches assault on wild beauty

Posted on 19 October 2010

 Montenegro promotes itself to international tourism markets as a bastion of wild beauty. The government, however, appears to be trying to push forward plans to erect multiple dams along the outstanding Morača canyon.
 Podgorica - Montenegro promotes itself to international tourism markets as a bastion of wild beauty. The government, however, appears to be trying to push forward plans to erect multiple dams along the outstanding Morača canyon.

Just over two months ago, the government promised to consider alternatives to the 40-year-old dams plan after a storm of domestic and international criticism.

The government is now working to introduce a “concession act,” which would in effect reinvigorate the multiple dams plan by giving directions to potential investors.

The concession act, for which consultation just ended, once approved will enable the government to launch a call for tenders for the project.

“This procedure is completely unacceptable,” said Francesca Antonelli, Head of the Freshwater programme at WWF Mediterranean, on behalf of WWF and Green Home, its partner NGO in Montenegro. “It sidesteps the government’s obligation to complete its earlier and largely discredited strategic environmental assessment of the plan, and on one hand sets up an option which is largely structured around the original proposal.

On the other hand, the “concession act” allows the government to give investors the opportunity to propose alternative plans with no environmental or social performance guidance, or restrictions, Antonelli said.

“Investors are being given the option to stick with the original plans, lower the walls on the highest dams or come up with another proposal with no guarantee that this would be subject to any reputable environmental and social assessment.”

The government’s own figures show that Montenegrin power consumption per capita is five times the European Union average, with other studies showing transmission losses of more than three times the European rate. More than 50 percent of the country’s electricity demand comes from an aging and inefficient aluminum plant – KAP, which is currently undergoing serious economic difficulties.

WWF Italy has written to Italian company A2A, the 43 percent owner of Montenegro’s power company and largely regarded as the leading contender to build the dams, asking it to not to participate in the flawed process.

WWF and Green Home had expressed very strong concerns on the plan proposed in February this year by the Montenegrin government to build four dams on the Morača river because they would significantly threaten important biodiversity areas – so-called Emerald sites that should become the country’s future Natura 2000 sites once Montenegro joins the European Union – and impact one of the most important bird and fish habitats in the Mediterranean region.

The Morača River, the second most important in Montenegro, provides two thirds of the flows into Lake Skadar, the biggest lake in the Balkans and one of the most important bird and fish habitats in the Mediterranean region, providing more than 90 per cent of fish consumed in Montenegro.

Lake Skadar, listed under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international significance, is one of Europe's five most important wintering sites for birds. Very rare endemic species of trout could disappear, and the fishery of Lake Skadar could shrink by 30 per cent – with a loss of some €1.5 million in annual fishing revenues.

Whiskered tern (Chlidonias hybrida) landing on its nest, Lake Skadar National Park, Montenegro.
© Wild Wonders of Europe /Milán Radisics / WWF