Author: Ardit Hoxha
Described as the “blue eye” of Berat, the source and canyon of Sinec is a protected area by decision of the Council of Ministers of 2002. In recent years this source has become a tourist attraction.
However, the entire protected area, the canyon and its surrounding landscape that today attracts tourists, is in danger of being destroyed due to a project by the municipality of Kuçova to build a water supply system there to supply water to the seven villages of the Lumas administrative unit.
This situation has caused continuous protests of almost 5 months by the inhabitants of Lumas, who are against the project of this water supply. For the residents, the water supply would destroy any possibility of receiving tourists and will destroy agriculture, as the water they use for irrigation would enter the pipes.
For this community, the implementation of the water supply project is useless and damages the tourist perspective of the area. They raise concerns about the lack of transparency in the public consultation process.
For several weeks, in this village there were several protests, clashes with police and some residents went on hunger strike. The latter was terminated only after the decision of the National Agency of Protected Areas (NAPA), to suspend the works.
Natural and touristic values of Sinec
Sinec Park is located for the most part within the territory of the municipality of Gramsh and only a small part belongs to the municipality of Kuçova. It represents a large canyon formed by limestone formations and the continuous karstic and erosive activity of the Sarasel stream. The canyon is estimated to be 300 meters deep at maximum points, with steep slopes in some parts of it. The source, the canyon together with the Sarasel stream are valued for their scientific, ecological and touristic values.
According to the municipality of Kuçova and the company Salillari, the works carried out so far to build the water supply for the 7 villages of Lumas have not affected the protected area. Residents and their representative lawyer claim otherwise. According to lawyer Arben Llangozi, the works were carried out within the protected area and in the perimeter around it which is called buffer zone and where there should be no construction without the approval of the National Agency of Protected Areas.
“In the project for the water supply, there are lies and it is said that Sineci is not included in the protected areas. But there is no need for me to say anything about this, since this decision of 2022 overthrows it. Work is underway in a protected area. The works must be done at a distance of 19 meters outside the protected area. The law says that the works should not be done even in the buffer zone and not only within the protected area. The law says that the water permit must be obtained and they have not received the water permit until this moment, so even at this point they are in violation of the law “, said Arben Llangozi for ACQJ.
As shown in this map provided by the ACQJ, the planned water supply depot is within the buffer zone surrounding the protected area.
This finding also supported by the inspection made by the National Agency of Protected Areas, Elbasan branch, which in the end ordered the suspension of works because works have been carried out in a protected area.
ACQJ addressed Salillari Company for a comment regarding the implementation of the project and the impact it will have on the protected area and the lives of the residents, but there was no response to our request for information until the publication of this article.
In 2016, the Municipality of Kuçova, in its master plan, proposed the creation of a joint national park with the municipality of Gramsh, which would include the source of Sinec together with the cave of Xhixhile and other picturesque areas. “Such a thing enables the preservation of this resource and its canyons as well as its use as a national and local asset for the development of tourism. The promotion of the source and canyons of Sinec as a tourist area that offers opportunities for entertainment and relaxation”, is said, among other things, in this document of 2016 (in Albanian).
However, from the point of view of environmental experts, this issue should be taken seriously, as the need for water supply to the inhabitants of the area, can not harm a natural resource that has been protected since 2002.
Professor of the University of Tirana, Aleko Miho told ACQJ that in addition to the natural values that this spring has, the behavior of the municipality is strange, which on the one hand seeks to use it as a tourist asset, and on the other hand seeks to get water for water supply. “The area is valuable, from the hydrogeological point of view, waterfalls, canyons, globally threatened riparian river habitats, etc. For this I support the request of the Municipality of Kuçova to become part of the system of Protected Areas, as a Natural Park (Category IV) (2016). I strongly support the legitimate demands of the residents, for all the services that the area offers them for centuries. What surprises me and elsewhere in Albania, such as the Municipality of Kuçova, on the one hand proposes to declare a Protected Area (2016), and on the other hand allows the investment to use the waterfall water for drinking water for Kuçova. An investment that is contrary to the protection of natural values, tourism, but also other services that this waterfall offers, such as irrigation, washing, quenching the thirst of livestock, not to mention the preservation of flora and surrounding vegetation, aquatic fauna, mitigation climate, food from other underground sources along the course, etc.”, stressed Professor Miho.
The environmentalist Ahmet Mehmeti was of the same opinion, for whom the Source of Sinec / Sarasel Waterfall should not be allowed to be destroyed in any way. “The Sinec spring / Sarasel waterfall has environmental values for very interesting water flow, biodiversity, rock as a very special geological formation, unique landscape, social interest of the community near it, etc. etc. This natural monument is preserved with the persistence of 3,000 (three thousand) years of undamaged and adored Albanian civilization. “After three thousand years, it becomes a race of arrogant destroyers who, for their greedy interests, seek to destroy it,”said Mehmeti, who also made a concrete proposal, “To appoint a forest ranger (ranger) to have him under constant surveillance and to should be from this area, as close to the nature monument. “He may be given other tasks in the framework of the Protected Areas.”
Controversies over the project
To address the 30-year need for drinking water supply to the villages of Lumas, Pëllumbas, Bardhaj, Sheqëz, Vodëz, Krekëz and Koritëz, in 2017, the Municipality of Kuçova drafted a project for the construction of a water supply system that sources water. of Sinec – Sarasel to take it to the wells of the inhabitants in these villages. The Municipality of Kuçova in a response to the Albanian Center for Quality Journalism states that several consultative meetings have been held with the residents of the area, to get their opinion to draft a project that would meet their requirements.
“This project has its origins in 2017, a period in which several meetings were held with residents and village elders of this administrative unit, concerns were raised about the supply of drinking water in this area. Regarding the feasibility study, we explain that from this project, this administrative unit will be the water supply to 7 villages or 5800 inhabitants. We also inform you that from the municipality of Kuçova in the period July-August there were cases that a water bus was sent to the villages of Krekëz and Koritëz as these villages have only one supply tap (natural source) which supplies the whole village, source which these 2 months exhausts to the maximum “, it is emphasized in the response of the municipality of Kuçova given to ACQJ.
However, this claim of the municipality of Kuçova is opposed by the lawyer Arben Llangozi, representative of the residents of Lumas. According to him, there was no consultation with the residents to take the spring water of Sinec and distribute it in 7 villages. He claims that the Municipality of Kuçova, with the procedures it has followed to implement the project, has violated a number of laws.
“We have the documents and the entire complete file that the decision-making of the municipality of Kuçova is not based on law. Water analyzes performed there have proven that the water is not suitable for use as drinking water. The municipality and the company would have to get a water permit. The law on public consultation has not been implemented either. It is also Article 16 of the law on local government that has been violated. ‘For any decision-making, the local government must obtain the approval of the public …’. The irony in this story is that all those villages have water supply. There was not a single request of a citizen of those villages to have requested the construction of a water supply system. The project has been changed there and currently those works that have been done have not been done based on the project”, said lawyer Llangozi in an interview for ACQJ.
The project costs for the construction of water supply of 7 villages is 361,206,231 ALL. All funding is covered by the National Agency for Water Supply and Sewerage and Waste Infrastructure. Three companies participated in the competition, BAMI sh.p.k with a bid of 358 658 979 lekë without VAT, ED KONSTRUKSION sh.p.k. with a bid of 359 403 183 lekë without VAT and SALILLARI sh.p.k with a bid of 354 143 215 lekë without VAT. The companies “Bami” and “Ed Konstruksion” were disqualified from the competition because they did not meet the criteria for the number of employees and for shortcomings in the documents submitted to the experts and engineers who would deal with the implementation of the project. The announcement of the winning company Salillari, which had submitted the lowest bid was made on 22.01.2021, and immediately after that, the procedures for the implementation of the project in the field started.
According to the municipality of Kuçova, this project will put an end to the suffering of the inhabitants of these villages for several years for water and at a low cost, as the network at 80% of its length will be free flowing. “The impetus for the construction of this project is the inability of the inhabitants of these villages to have a regular supply of drinking water and for this reason we inform you that the source of Sinec is the only opportunity to solve this problem. We also explain that the spring water of Sinec is 100% safe because in 2017 the municipality has performed the analysis of this water in the Directorate of Public Health and in a specialized private company. We also explain to you that this project taking water from the source of Sinec will be realized in 80% of it with free flow, which means the municipality will not use pumps. The maintenance of this network will have almost zero cost”, it is said in the explanation of the municipality, given to ACQJ.
One of the main motives of the project for the construction of this water supply system has been transparency.
With a value of about 4 million euros, the water supply project in 2017 would be financed by the German Development Bank. Residents’ objections to the project at the time led to the withdrawal of the German Bank from the investment. “Contacts with the German bank took place in 2017 and after several hearings, it was exactly these residents who opposed the construction of this water supply, a reason that led to the withdrawal of the German bank. Another reason is the fact that the German Bank requires as a condition that the municipality finance part of the project, which was impossible on our part. These 2 reasons led to the failure of this project in 2017. This time this project is funded 100% by AKUM”, explained the municipality in the response given to ACQJ.
However, the reasons for the departure of the German Bank from the financing of this project and then its tender with AKUM funds, where the winner was the company Salillari, is one of the points that is considered by the residents as unclear and leaves room for doubt.
Residents told the ACQJ that they are not against the fact that drinking water goes to the taps of houses, but they have many questions, starting from the suspicion that their lands may remain dry and without water.
“We are not against development, but we want them to come and explain to us what gains and what losses we have from this project. We are not even going to our lands, because they have blocked the road with the police. “The police stopped me and told me you could not cross the road,” said Alkida, a Lumas resident who has been protesting for weeks against the water supply project.
ACQJ talked to another resident of Lumas, who said that both the municipality and the company Salillari did not show him the project. Residents also allude to getting water through pipes to build a water plant.
“The project implementation company came here and did not show us the project. He left, he dissapeared. We have paid 60 thousand ALL each family and we all have as Lumas. We have the water supply. This joblooks like they are going to build a water supply system over a water supply system. They bring us here the police and oppress the citizens, the taxpayers. They are taking our water to sell it, they do not care what those villages drink so far? Each municipality has supplied water with wells. They do not even have people for the water supply. Every village has well water. With this water we keep ourlselves alive. If this water is put into pipes, there will be no more water for the bees, let alone people. This water is ours”, said Refije, a resident of Lumas.
Regarding the suspicions for setting up a water factory at the source of Sinec, the municipality of Kuçova rejected any allusion, underlining: “The news that a water factory will be built in this area is completely untrue as every fact and evidence is completely verifiable. A water supply system will be built in this area, which will supply water to 7 villages and 5800 inhabitants.”
Currently, the project for the water supply of seven villages with the water of the spring of Sinec has been suspended, but this does not calm the inhabitants of Lumas at all. After these months of fighting, these residents say they are ready to go on strike again and give everything to protect the source that has been theirs for centuries.