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The quarries that mark the countryside in Kosovo have triggered environmental concerns and complaints from local residents, who cite air pollution, noise, and damaged infrastructure.
The quarries that mark the countryside in Kosovo have triggered environmental concerns and complaints from local residents, who cite air pollution, noise, and damaged infrastructure.

SHALA, Kosovo -- For 60-year-old Ylber Hoxha, the lush slopes of the Shala Valley in central Kosovo were once a favorite spot to take a walk and get some fresh air. Not anymore.

"Now there's nothing but dust," he says, pointing toward part of a mountain scarred with a gaping hole from a quarry.

The mountain near the village of Shala where a quarry owned by Arberia Turist operates
The mountain near the village of Shala where a quarry owned by Arberia Turist operates

Hoxha is concerned by poor air quality, among many other things.

"There are no fences here, and the quarry is located right next to the road. If a stone were to fall, it could kill you," he says. "There are also frequent explosions, and we have problems with trucks carrying the materials that can overspill."

Hoxha and his fellow villagers have protested about the conditions, but their complaints have been rejected by the mining company, Arberia Turist.

Ylber Hoxha
Ylber Hoxha

Its owner, Feim Hoxha, maintains he is operating within the law and is in possession of all required permits.

"The quarry is 1 1/2 kilometers away from the village. There is no danger," Hoxha says.

According to the Independent Commission for Mining and Minerals (ICMM), a government agency that regulates Kosovo's minerals sector, and public documents reviewed by RFE/RL, Arberia Turist has an active permit valid until 2025.

However, the permits issued by the Environment Ministry are not made public.

A quarry near the village of Studencan in Suhareka (central-southern Kosovo)
A quarry near the village of Studencan in Suhareka (central-southern Kosovo)

Although the precise number of stone-quarrying operations in Kosovo is unknown, the industry's impact can be seen in the nation's landscape.

A team of experts wrote an environmental impact report on the industry in 2021 at the government's request. In response to the findings, the Environment Ministry put a two-year hold on issuing new permits until June 2023.

Active quarries and abandoned pits near the village of Gllareva in central Kosovo
Active quarries and abandoned pits near the village of Gllareva in central Kosovo

One of the primary conclusions, according to the report's lead author, Ali Sefaj, is that companies leave open trenches on their property instead of rehabilitating it.

"Most quarries in Kosovo, whether closed or still operating, are in a deplorable condition, and unfortunately, a large number of them have also been a place of death, either for people or livestock [who fall into the open pits]," says Sefaj.

Over 13,000 hectares, or more than 1 percent, of Kosovo's land have been damaged by the quarrying industry, according to the report that RFE/RL was able to view. Among the consequences are biodiversity loss and contamination of the air and water.

The open pit near the village of Sankoc in central Kosovo
The open pit near the village of Sankoc in central Kosovo

The ministry has not responded to RFE/RL's questions about new permits issued since the moratorium expired. However, public data from ICMM shows there are currently over 100 active permits for stone extraction.

The ministry's deputy chief inspector, Elbasan Shala, says that in the past five years they have carried out approximately 1,000 quarry inspections. Their findings show an absence of official business documentation, unmet requirements on fencing or air and noise pollution, and damage to the environment and local infrastructure such as roads.

He adds that fines have been imposed for violations and, in some cases, there have been court hearings, but punishments are often "negligible."

Open pits near the village of Sankoc
Open pits near the village of Sankoc

Near the village of Sankoc in central Kosovo, several large pits stand where the Kodra company once operated.

The municipality of Drenas determined that the company used municipal land without permission during the first two years of operations. Around 2014, the municipality allocated 5 hectares and later 40 hectares for the company. The contract stipulated that Kodra was to build a recreation center, which was never constructed.

In 2018, after Ramiz Lladrovci became mayor of Drenas, he terminated the contract, forcing Kodra to cease operations. He also sued the company for property damage.

"We didn't let them rehabilitate the quarry because we are in judicial proceedings," Lladrovci says, adding he did not want to give the company time to cover up its crimes.

Enver Zogaj, the owner of the company, received a 22-month suspended sentence for "usurpation and damage to public property" in 2017.

However, Zogaj says municipal decisions have hindered his work and has sued the municipality for the termination of the contract.

"I believe that justice will prevail," he says, declining further comment citing the ongoing judicial process.

Cattle graze in an open pit near the village of Vrella.
Cattle graze in an open pit near the village of Vrella.

In recent years, the nongovernmental organization Cohu has conducted research focusing on quarrying activities in Kosovo.

"The environmental damage is vast because there are many large, degraded spaces that are close to settlements, and this can then pose a danger to people as well," explains Arton Demhasaj, the director of Cohu. He says a large number of these businesses have political connections.

"If there were no politicization, institutions would supervise more and ensure companies revitalize the spaces they used," he says.

Houses near a quarry in the village of Carraleve.
Houses near a quarry in the village of Carraleve.

Rrustem Orana, from the village of Cernilla in the Ferizaj region, says the use of heavy machinery in the area has caused villagers like himself to live with constant dust and noise.

"There is dust everywhere. The road is damaged by trucks. The clothes we dry outside instantly get dust on them," Orana says.

He says residents have little power to stop this industry, citing a lack of state oversight.

Rrustem Orana
Rrustem Orana

Sefaj suggests setting up an environmental fund to address the issue of degradation caused by quarries. The fund's taxes and revenues from quarries should be utilized to restore impacted regions when businesses are unable to do so, he says.

"Unfortunately, it's been almost 2 1/2 years [since the report's findings] and we still don't even have a remediation plan, no funds, and no concrete action," he says.

A quarry near Drenas.
A quarry near Drenas.

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