Tensions were running high in western Tskaltubo Municipality’s Rioni River gorge yesterday, where the Enka Renewables company, backed by the police force, resumed construction works for Namakhvani Hydropower Plant, despite local protests.
Law enforcement officers removed a tent set up near the project site, where protestors, citing devastating environmental and social impacts of the project been taking shifts for 98 days to prevent the HPP construction.
Varlam Goletiani, a local young activist who led the local anti-dam resistance movement, “promised” the Georgian authorities and the company that the protesters will not allow them to finish the job. Goletiani asserted: “They should be here for construction works for at least seven years. Addressing these violent methods is not in their interests in the first place… In the long run… locals will not allow them to proceed with the works.”
“You are serving the Turks [Turkish interests],” one of the protestors addressed the law enforcement officers during the minor skirmish, alluding to the Istanbul-based engineering company ENKA, that along with Norway’s Clean Energy Group has the right to develop, construct, own and operate the Namakhvani HPP Cascade.
The Enka Renewables said on January 30, on its part, that the authorities are responsible for protecting the rights of the investor. The company added that hindering the project implementation will lead to solid material losses, Georgia’s damaged investment climate, and legal complications.
“Namakhvani HPP, like any other hydropower plant being built in Georgia, makes an important contribution to the energy security of our country,” Economy Minister Natia Turnava said.
The Economy Minister hailed the planned project as “safe, one of the most thoroughly studied projects” and underscored its value of bringing USD 800 million foreign direct investment in the country in the post-COVID-19 period.
The Georgian Young Lawyers Association, a civil society organization, that challenged the HPP construction in the court last year, accused the Georgian Government yesterday of using “repressive methods to squash the protest” and called the court to consider the case “objectively, in a timely manner.”
The project opponents, citing the rights of locals, as well as social and ecological dangers stemming from the HPP construction, are planning to hold a rally outside the Parliament building in Tbilisi on February 1. Locals on their part organizing another rally near the project site, in Tskaltubo Municipality’s Zhoneti village on February 7.
Read more here about the controversial project’s background and previous developments.