The Slovenia Times

Parliament opens inquiry into controversial Ljubljana sewerage project

Environment & NaturePolitics

The National Assembly has opened a parliamentary inquiry into approval and construction of a section of an EU-subsidised sewerage project in Ljubljana over concerns that it will jeopardise the source of drinking water for 300,000 residents of Slovenia's capital. The contentious stretch is about to be completed.

The C0 is a 12-kilometre pipeline to carry waste water from Medvode and Vodice north-west of Ljubljana to the central waste water treatment facility in Zalog on the eastern outskirts of the capital.

At issue is a 4.5-kilometre stretch between Brod and Ježica boroughs which runs over the groundwater area where Ljubljana's citizens get their drinking water.

The pipeline is part of a major Ljubljana project to build 130 kilometres of sewer pipes and upgrade the Zalog wastewater treatment plant. It is valued at €135 million, of which €69 million is to come from EU cohesion funds.

The pipeline's route was set out back in 1991. One of the major projects of Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković, the project received first construction permits in 2014 being categorised as a simple facility that does not need an environmental assessment permit, a decision endorsed by the Environment Agency in 2016.

Growing concerns about risks

However, environmentalists have been warning of risks and urging for an environmental impact assessment to be made for years and in 2019 an audit commissioned by the Environment Ministry found serious shortcomings in approval procedures for the project.

Opposition to the project gained momentum after construction of C0 resumed just after Janković won his fifth term as Ljubljana mayor in November. This was after the project had been suspended for more than two years because owners of adjacent plots obstructed access to the construction site.

Construction resumed amid protests by land owners, farmers and other opponents, with several incidents earlier this year as security hired by the municipality and police intervened to remove protesters. Visiting the site earlier this year Green MEP Thomas Waitz urged the European Commission to review the project.

Despite calls from President Nataša Pirc Musar, NGOs, doctors, and others for the project to be suspended until environmental concerns are resolved, Janković has been adamant to continue the project. On 4 July when the parliamentary inquiry was launched he said that "by September, when MPs resume their work, the C0 sewerage will have been fully completed".

Mayor undeterred

The government and the minister in charge have been arguing that they cannot stop the project because it has all the necessary permits and Janković has been insisting that the project can only be halted by a formal decision taken by the authorities in charge.

He has been arguing that the sewerage system will make drinking water even cleaner because it will close 6,400 septic tanks, 4,500 of which in the Ljubljana municipality, and 1,900 in the municipalities of Medvode and Vodice, which are upstream from Ljubljana and have wastewater flowing into Ljubljana.

He has been insisting that the project has been examined by national and EU authorities and that no flaws had been found. However, after the municipality opted to build protective concrete barriers as an additional safety measure around the pipes, the Environment Agency decided it would have to seek an environmental permit. The municipality appealed and a court decision on the matter is still pending.

The parliamentary inquiry into the project was initiated by the opposition Democrats (SDS), backed by New Slovenia (NSi). All parliamentary parties pledged to cooperate in the proceedings as did Janković.

Govt accused of inaction

SDS MP Anja Bah Žibert argued the project was "putting at risk the lives of more than 300,000 citizens and the remaining ecosystem", with the pipeline running close to two waterworks that supply Ljubljana and its surroundings with 90% of their drinking water.

The opposition accused the government and the coalition of inaction over the project. "That is because you are all enabling the 'boss'. It's obvious who the 'boss' is in our country. The police do not act, what is more they protect illegal construction, inspectors do not act," NSi MP Aleksander Reberšek said.

The Left, a member of the ruling coalition, was also critical of the situation, arguing that all major infrastructure projects in the country come along with concerns that are addressed when it is already too late.

The Social Democrats (SD) think that it is not up to politicians to decide on whether experts made the right choices in the case and permits were issued accordingly, but if the inquiry finds irregularities and paves the way for better legislation, the junior coalition party has no problems with it.

Meanwhile, Freedom Movement of PM Robert Golob argued that the government and relevant ministries have been taking all appropriate measures in line with the law.


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