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Public Defender Responds to Public Protest over Namakhvani HPP Cascade Project

For several weeks now, residents of the Rioni Gorge have been protesting against the construction of the Namakhvani hydroelectric power plant cascade in various ways; they even substitute each other to ensure nonstop protest.[1] On November 14, protesters were forcibly removed from a roadway by law enforcers in the village of Zhoneti, which led to a clash.[2] Before that, several protests were held in Kutaisi.[3] Activists drew up a petition demanding to stop the construction of hydropower plants in Racha-Lechkhumi.[4] A court dispute has been launched on the basis of the civil society appeal regarding the legality of the environmental decision issued in relation to the project.[5] The Public Defender of Georgia believes that the State should take measures in response to the above critical situation.[6]

The Namakhvani hydroelectric power plant cascade is one of the largest hydropower projects of Georgia, which includes the construction of two hydroelectric power plants on the Rioni River in Tskaltubo and Tsageri municipalities.[7]

Geological and seismic risks, landslide hazards and expected microclimatic changes are the main concerns and subject of constant protest of the population, specialists and civil society,[8] which, in general, creates the expectation of deteriorated ecological and socio-economic situation; The subject of criticism is the thoroughness of the examination of all aspects of the environmental impact. The economic-energy usefulness of the project is questionable; The conduct of the public hearing of the report on the project's environmental impact was also problematic.[9]

The Public Defender of Georgia acknowledges the state importance of the development of energy potential and natural resources. However, it is unfortunate that the State has not yet planned a long-term energy policy for the rational use and sustainable development of energy resources, which should be created and implemented in practice as a result of extensive public discussions and on the basis of the principle of transparency,[10] something actively demanded by the Public Defender in recent years. At the same time, the activities that have already been carried out, the investments that are to be made or the cost-effectiveness of the projects have not been studied or analyzed. And the problems with individual hydropower projects are systemic and continuous.

The multi-year oversight by the Public Defender's Office showed that the decisions made by the state agencies over the years have failed to answer the legitimate questions of the society.[11] Distrust towards the quality of examinations conducted and the environmental impact assessment documents, shortcomings in terms of public involvement, neglect of socio-economic interests of the local population, lack of transparency of information and data, and reasonable doubts about the usefulness of the projects remain important challenges. These very problems, despite the fundamentally improved national legislation, have manifested themselves collectively and particularly acutely in relation to the above-mentioned project.

To live in an environment that is safe for health and to participate in decision-making on environmental issues are the rights enshrined in the Constitution of Georgia.[12] Both international and national standards on environmental issues provide high guarantees of public awareness and involvement at the very early stage of decision-making. It should be noted that the real involvement of the public implies consideration of their opinions, remarks and needs when making decisions as much as possible, while the formal enforcement of procedural requirements cannot meet the above-mentioned standard. The critical assessments of the relevant experts, the ongoing protests of the population and the current critical situation have shown that the measures taken so far by both the State and the company implementing the project have failed to achieve public consensus and many questions remain unanswered regarding the expected impact of the project or its usefulness.

Therefore, the Public Defender calls on the state agencies to:

  • Take all possible measures to provide reasonable answers to the legitimate questions of local residents and stakeholders regarding the expected impact of the Namakhvani HPP cascade project and to prevent the project from being carried out without a qualified and thorough examination of all aspects of environmental impact
  • Provide detailed and substantiated information to the broad public on the energy and economic usefulness of the Namakhvani projects
  • Take effective and timely steps to ensure the rational use and sustainable development of energy resources, develop policy documents with the broad involvement of the relevant experts and professional groups, by conducting professional examinations, considering international best practices and holding public discussions.

[1] See the link <https://cutt.ly/Og3WudP>.

[2] See the link <https://publika.ge/gvaqvsdazianebebi/>.

[3] See the link <https://netgazeti.ge/news/462709/>, <https://netgazeti.ge/news/469343/>

[4] See the link <https://manifest.ge/main/item/3107>.

[5] See the link <https://cutt.ly/kg3Wi0e>.

[6] Tvishi HPP (with a capacity of 100 MW) and Namakhvani-Zhoneti HPP (with a capacity of 333 MW); The project provides for the construction of a 4,400-meter-long tunnel, which will cover the Rioni River, while several hundred of hectares will be flooded; about 100 families are subject to physical resettlement, and 197 families will be impacted by economic resettlement. See the Environmental Impact Assessment Report <https://mepa.gov.ge/Ge/PublicInformation/17104>, Environmental decision 28/02/2020 <<https://mepa.gov.ge/Ge/Files/ViewFle/28460>

[7] See the link <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-obt2C4e6E>, <https://cutt.ly/ug3Wwbb>; <https://cutt.ly/7g3WqYJ>; <https://cutt.ly/Sg3WeA1>; <https://cutt.ly/cg3WhT7>; <https://cutt.ly/Og3Wgie>; <https://cutt.ly/Bg3CJb2>, <https://cutt.ly/Qg3Vm07>.

[8] See the link <https://cutt.ly/9g3WtkD>.

[9] The relevant strategic documents should also meet the requirements of Decree № 629 of the Government of Georgia of December 30, 2016 “On Approval of Policy Planning Document - Policy Planning Guide” and Decree № 629 of the Government of Georgia of December 20, 2019 “On Approval of the Rules for Development, Monitoring and Evaluation of Policy Documents”.

[10] See details at: http://www.ombudsman.ge/res/docs/2019042620571319466.pdf from page 177.

[11] Article 29 of the Constitution of Georgia.

[12] Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making andAccessto Justice inEnvironmental Matters; EU Directive 2003/4/EC of 28 January 2003 on public access to environmental information; Directive 2003/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 May 2003 providing for public participationin respect of the drawing up of certain plans and programmes relating to the environment; Georgian Environmental Assessment Code.

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