Activists take Georgia’s environment ministry to court for green-lighting a mega hydropower project without an up-to-date environmental assessment

In a petition filed on March 19, 2019 with the Tbilisi city court by the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) and Green Alternative, on behalf of local residents in the Upper Svaneti region, the civil society groups challenge a decision of the Georgian Ministry of Agriculture and Environment to allow the Nenskra  project to go ahead.

The 280 MW hydropower project is planned to be built on the territories of the Chuberi and Nakra communities by the state owned Partnership Fund and South Korea’s state owned K-Water. Yet, over the past years local residents and civil society organisations have been protesting this mega-project over its far-reaching ramifications for both the pristine nature and the local communities.

In February 4, 2019 the Georgian Ministry of Agriculture and Environment decided to waive the legal obligation of preparing a new environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the Nenskra project, after the project had been dramatically modified (Location, height and type of the Dam changed). The court case submitted on March 19, 2019 by EMC and Green Alternative challenges this decision, arguing the EIA is the most important environmental document for an infrastructure project of the scale of the Nenskra hydropower plant.

Nenskra Hydro, who was tasked with buildling this massive project, has introduced significant technical and technological changes in the plans, and even altered its planned location in response to requirements from international financial institutions who committed financing for the project including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, and the Asian Development Bank. To be in line with international standards, Nenskra Hydro had to re-assess critical aspects of the project including hydrology, geology and biodiversity, and as a result amended the height, type and even location of the dam, as well as the location of its diversion tunnel. Yet, for the ministry, the EIA prepared four years ago for an earlier version of the project was sufficient.

In addition, massive floods that struck Chuberi in July 2018 have meant that the area considered for the assessment of the project’s impact on the natural environment and local communities has significantly changed. Yet, these changes, the plaintiffs argue, have not been taken into account by the ministry in the decision to forego the requirement for a new EIA for the Nenskra hydropower project.

Since 2015 local residents in Chuberi and civil society groups have been warning the construction permit issued for the Nenskra project was based on flawed studies and assessments. They have also lodged complaints with the international financial institutions backing the project on the same grounds.

Appeal submitted to the Tbilisi city court requires not only annulment of the illegal decision of the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment but also to suspend this decision until finalization of dispute in the court.

EMC and Green Alternative hope that national court system will act as a mechanism and tool for local population and other interested parties enabling them to conduct real control on arbitrary policy of executive authorities in the fields of Hydro energy and environment.