NJIVICE — The tourism season hasn't begun yet on the island of Krk, in the northern Adriatic, where silhouettes of tankers and container ships on their way to the port of Rijeka stand out against the background of the Kvarner Gulf, casting their immense shadows on the fishermen's boats.

Drazen Lesica looks out at the sea from the window of his family restaurant, founded in 1934 by his great-grandparents in the village of Njivice. "Fishing is our wealth," he says. "We've been working with the same families of sailors for three generations. But with the construction of the gas terminal, the bay will turn into a chlorinated pool."

Tourism also contributes to the lives of the locals. In a few weeks, the first contingents of German pensioners should begin to colonize the hotels and campsites. During the summer months, vacationers bring the island's population from 19,000 to more than 190,000. But this financial windfall could dry up if the Croatian government's projects come to fruition.

For a decade, the inhabitants of Krk heard repeatedly that the diversification of Europe's energy sources could one day involve their island, but until now, it was all just talk. What was decided, in 2015, was to build an onshore regasification terminal, but then the plan changed.

Clear waters off the island of Krk, Croatia Photo: Kiedrowski, R/ZUMA

"We were not delighted by this project, but we had decided to accept it because the ecological consequences seemed limited," explains Mirela Ahmetovic, the mayor of the municipality of Omisalj, in the northern part of Krk. "We granted a building permit for the onshore terminal but, without telling us, the government decided to build an offshore terminal instead and use a polluting technology that uses seawater for regasification. This decision violates the laws of the Republic of Croatia on urban planning, the environment and the protection of maritime property."

It would supply gas to a large part of central Europe, still dependent on Russian supplies

With a capacity of around 2.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year, the terminal — a 300-meter long ship anchored on the side of the island — is expected to cost 383 million euros. The European Union pledged in July 2017 to contribute to the tune of 101.4 million euros.

It would supply gas to a large part of central Europe, still dependent on Russian supplies. "A 16-member commission was set up to assess the project's environmental consequences, but nine of them were appointed by the government, and of course they concluded that the terminal was safe," says Vjeran Pirsic of the environmental association Eko-Kvarner.

Desperate measures

In defiance of local opponents, who demonstrated in Rijeka on March 3, and to override opposition from the municipality of Omisalj, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic is considering special legislation to allow construction to begin. U.S. President Donald Trump himself welcomed the project, which could provide an outlet for U.S. gas.

"We are accused of being pro-Russian," Ahmetovic says indignantly. The mayor believes that the "geopolitical" arguments serve mainly to hide private interests, while no study on the profitability of the offshore platform has been made public.

"The Kvarner Gulf is connected to the rest of the Adriatic via only three canals. Tts shores are home to 200,000 inhabitants and as well as big industrial centers," says Milvana Arko-Pijevac, a biologist at the Natural History Museum in Rijeka. "The bay's northern seabed is devastated and the use of seawater for regasification will lead to another disaster. To rid the water of organic matter, you need to add chlorine, up to 2 milligrams per liter. Discharged into the sea, the wastewater will sterilize the seabeds. Soon, our children won't find anything alive on the continental shelf."

We are accused of being pro-Russian.

The offshore terminal should be located on the western bank of Krk, between Omisalj and Njivice, near the Jadranski naftovod oil terminal (JANAF) and the Dina Petrokemija chemical plant. "The island was industrialized during the Yugoslav period, but we now derive most of our income from tourism," Ahmetovic explains.

A few kilometers from the future terminal, 80 homes are under construction on a wooded hillside. "We have invested millions of euros to improve our accommodation capacity, but pollution will make the sea unfit for swimming," sighs Zvonimir Tudorovic, co-owner of the Njivice Hotels group. The businessman says that unless the government backs down, the inhabitants of the island will have to mobilize. "Our only resort will be to block the bridge to the mainland."

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