Namakhvani Dam, Reservoir to Undergo Additional Safety Checks, Economy Minister Says

Economy Minister Natia Turnava announced on March 12 that the government has agreed with the investor to delay the construction of Namakhvani HPP’s dam and reservoir until further studies re-examine the project’s safety.

Minister Turnava said that the government will enlist independent, “reputable” Georgian experts and institutions to study and address environmental concerns cited repeatedly by locals and activists protesting the construction.

She highlighted that in the meantime the government and the investor have agreed to set up a joint Rioni Gorge Development Fund to allocate some GEL 5 million (USD 1.5 million) in projects benefiting the region’s populace. The local community will be involved in managing the fund, Minister Turnava pledged.

Minister Turnava also said the company will appoint a Georgian citizen as a supervisor of the construction to ensure the labor rights of the employees, as well as guarantee “accurate communication” with the concerned public.

Economy Minister Natia Turnava and Environment Minister Levan Davitashvili were tasked by PM Garibashvili last week to “hear out the concerns” of the protesters, who have been taking shifts for more than 140 days to obstruct the Namakhvani HPP construction process.

The activists, CSOs, and locals cite the seismic and other natural disaster risks, potential environmental damage, the contractual conditions that allow the investor to confiscate private property and utilize natural resources, and extensive right to seek the government compensation for damages, as some of their key concerns.

Activists respond

Marita Museliani, one of the leaders of the Save Rioni Gorge movement, pointed out that the construction of the HPP’s dam and reservoir had not begun yet anyways. She also said that meanwhile, the activists protested other related infrastructure projects carried out by the investor, which are set to continue as per Minister Turnava’s announcement.

Regarding the joint development fund, Museliani said the state’s contract with the investor already includes obligations to carry out social projects. “It is a bit awkward to name amounts of money, GEL 5 million, for obscure infrastructure or social projects” she highlighted, arguing the announcement sounded like a money “offer” to the activists directly.

About the project

The Government of Georgia awarded the Istanbul-based engineering company ENKA and Norway’s Clean Energy Group the right to develop, construct, own and operate the Namakhvani HPP Cascade in the Imereti and Lechkhumi provinces of Western Georgia in 2019.

The Namakhvani project encompasses two separate HPPs of 333 MW and 100 MW on the Rioni River. The government hopes to enhance its energy security and to employ up to 1,600 Georgians with the “foreign direct investment in the amount of USD 800 million.”

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