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ZELENA AKCIJA / FOE Croatia welcomes the EBRDs cancelation of the loan for controversial Croatian dam

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Zagreb, May 28 – Croatian electricity company HEP and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have cancelled a EUR 123, 2 million loan contract for the controversial Ombla underground hydropower plant near Dubrovnik HEP announced yesterday. In this way, implementation of this harmful project is being stopped, considerind it was highly depending on EBRD loan.

The project had attracted widespread criticism from civil society groups and experts due to its impacts on the Vilina Cave – OmblaSpring protected area, which is home to 68 identified cave species, of which as many as 14 species are endemic to this site alone.

When the EBRD's board approved the Ombla hydropower project in November 2011 - before the project's environmental impacts had been properly assessed or publicly consulted - it did so on the condition that the project promoter, Croatian electricity company HEP, carried out an assessment of the project's impact on flora and fauna of the Vilina Cave – Ombla Spring protected area.

The research shows that the construction of the Ombla hydropower plant would have irreversible and long-lasting impacts on the Vilina Cave – Ombla Spring system and could permanently destroy habitats that are set for protection as part of Croatia’s future Natura 2000 network and already form part of the country's National Ecological Network. While some mitigation measures exist for certain individual species, the effectiveness of these measures are unknown, and no mitigation is possible for habitats as a whole.

To be more specific, in the study altogether 68 cave species were identified, of which almost all are endemic to the Southern Dinaric region in southern Croatia and Western Bosnia, and many are endemic to the narrower region around Dubrovnik . The study finds as many as 14 species are endemic to the Vilina Cave – Ombla Spring site alone. We would also like to point out that the assessment which has been carried out has not been done within the framework with the Croatian Law on Nature Protection, and thus is not part of any legal framework.

Uncertainties about the technical and economic credentials added to the widespread criticism of the project, as did the chaotic project development procedure, including the use of an old Environmental Impact Assessment made in 1999 and public consultations taking place only as a cosmetic measure long after the legal permits had alreadybeen issued. “The EBRD's involvement in the Ombla hydropower plant has from the start been a story of insufficient scrutiny and cutting procedural corners, and we are relieved that the bank has finally had the sense to withdraw”, said Jagoda Munic, President of Friends of the Earth International and Biodiversity Programme Co-ordinator at Zelena akcija/Friends of the Earth Croatia.

We would like to thank all NGOs and citizens initiatives that showed support in the struggle against the damaging project on the river Ombla, in particular Bankwatch and Friends of the Earth Europe.

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