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Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic Sets a Landmark Decision on Small Hydropower Plant Siting

The Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic definitively stopped the licensing of a small hydroelectric power plant in Žiar nad Hronom, Central Slovakia. In the landmark decision, the Slovakian Supreme Court said, “The public interest, which is the protection of the environment, takes precedence over private business interest.”

2020 July 30 - The Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic upheld the decision of the Banská Bystrica Regional Court which, due to illegality, cancelled the decision of the Žiar nad Hronom building authority which allowed the siting of a small hydroelectric power plant in Žiar nad Hronom on the Hron River. It is another in a series of legal disputes over the controversial construction of small hydropower plants (SHPP) on the Hron. There are 22 additional SHPPs planned on the river, in addition to the 20 already in operation.

Conservation organisations (Association Slatinka, Rieka, Hereditas HH and the Slovak Fishermen's Association) with the support of WWF-Slovakia legally challenged the siting decision in 2018 by filing a lawsuit in cooperation with the VIA IURIS association.

The Regional Court in Banska Bystrica ruled on the matter in the autumn of 2018. The Court accepted some of the plaintiffs' arguments and annulled the decision to locate the SHPP. However, the investor and also the District Office in Banská Bystrica appealed against this judgment. The Supreme Court’s final decision this week fully upheld the judgment of the Banská Bystrica Regional Court. In its arguments, the Supreme Court added extensive and thorough considerations with clear instructions applicable to other cases.

“A SHPP in Žiar nad Hronom would have been another obstacle on the Hron River. There are already two SHPP (Hronská Dúbrava and Zvolen) on that 25 km stretch of river. Both are impassable for migratory fish. According to the Supreme Court, there was no proper assessment of the environmental effects of the construction. Furthermore, the Žiar nad Hronom Building Authority did not pay sufficient attention to the public interest - the protection of the environment. It is a ground-breaking decision, because for the first time the Supreme Court paid close attention to the fact that building authorities must also take their role seriously  to protect the environment in territorial proceedings,” said Miroslava Plassmann, CEO of WWF-Slovakia.

The Supreme Court’s ruling cannot be appealed. Following this decision, WWF-Slovakia also calls on the competent state authorities to start considering the removal of existing small hydropower plants, especially those whose negative effects significantly outweigh the positive ones. The recent Pan-European Atlas of In-Stream Barriers identified 152 dams, wiers, sluices and other barriers on 20412 km of Slovakian rivers.

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