Ekaterine Grigalava, Stakeholder Manager
EGL, seconded to the TAP project
Ekaterine Grigalava joined the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project in 2008 as Stakeholder Manager. She has a Master of Arts degree in Public Administration from the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs.
Ekaterine started her career in the non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector in Georgia working on various civic issues, including women’s rights and the promotion of fair elections. This coincided with an extremely vibrant period in the region, the so-called “Rose revolution” in Georgia and “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine.
“I witnessed how the growth of civic awareness contributed to the political changes and reforms”, says Ekaterine. “It was an exciting moment to be in this sector as I felt how my work was directly contributing to the change.”
Fresh from this experience, she joined the BP office in Georgia as an NGO and Community Affairs Coordinator for three strategic pipeline projects – the Baku-Tbilisi Ceyhan (BTC), the South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP) and the Western Route Pipeline (WREP).
The BTC and SCP pipelines received constant and intense international attention as, for the first time in history, energy supply from the former Soviet Union was to be transported to Western Europe directly.
Realising the extent of the public’s interest, BP invited NGOs to participate in the independent audit of the BTC and SCP pipelines. Ekaterine’s role was to stand in the middle of this process, enabling constructive dialogue between the company and NGOs on environmental and social issues, human rights, reinstatement and biodiversity.
“It was a unique experience to work on a geopolitical project of this scale in the spotlight of the world’s attention,“ says Ekaterine. “BP definitely set an example in stakeholder engagement for other cross-boundary gas infrastructure projects to follow.”
In fact, BP’s BTC project development experience is very similar to that of TAP. Both pipelines cross rugged mountainous terrain and have similar technical, social and environmental challenges. Considering these similarities, TAP’s management decided to adopt BTC as a benchmark project to follow in its social performance and invited Ekaterine to join the team as Stakeholder Manager.
“Basically, my job here is to help TAP keep continuous dialogue with the people on the ground with the ultimate goal of winning their support for the project. To do that we introduce TAP to them, present and discuss the project’s potential impacts, collect their feedback, and constantly address their concerns.“
All this is done in full compliance with international best practice and the stringent performance requirements of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) which call for any final decision on the pipeline to be made only after thorough consultation with the affected population.
After several years of consultation with central, regional and local authorities in the host countries, TAP started direct engagement with local communities along the potential pipeline route in 2011 in Greece and Albania and 2012 in Italy.
According to Ekaterine, the reaction of local residents to the project follows the same pattern everywhere. At the beginning of the engagement process people tend to be concerned and are looking for more information. “It’s natural, as this is something new and they want to understand the effects of a large infrastructure project,” comments Ekaterine.
“Generally speaking, as we explain our plans and provide detailed information on the project’s potential impacts and try to find mutually beneficial solutions to any issues, most people begin to understand the project and usually become more receptive. The only way to win their trust at this stage is to answer their questions in full and to show that their opinion counts, and finally to take their comments on board.”
This approach is being applied in all transit countries of TAP – Albania, Greece and Italy.
“The countries that TAP will transits are very different,” says Ekaterine. “People in Italy, Albania and Greece all have different historical and social contexts, levels of income, economic development, and experience with civic engagement. However, I realize that despite these differences, people are essentially the same everywhere – the same things make them happy or disappointed. Similarly, everyone enjoys finding out that there are many positive benefits they can receive from a big infrastructure project, which genuinely tries its best to be their good neighbour. We just need to keep on talking.”
TAP attempts to involve all groups of the population and provide as many channels for collecting feedback as possible. According to the EBRD’s requirements, all groups need to be informed about the project and should have an opportunity to comment, including the elderly, minorities, and women. “In some areas it was problematic to attract women to meetings as decisions are traditionally made by men. In such cases, we have had to be creative in finding ways to involve women, in order to ensure full representation of the community. One way is to visit them at home, or invite them to women-only focus groups.”
An example of some concerns raised recently, is in San Foca, Italy, where TAP will make its landfall. There part of the local population is concerned that the construction of the TAP pipeline may interfere with local tourism.
“After discussing this issue with local stakeholders, we decided to limit construction to the winter months only, so that there will be no affect on local tourism,” explains Ekaterine. “Additionally, TAP will work together with local residents and other parties on developing the area. What exactly this involves will be decided in close cooperation with local communities based on their needs and preferences.”
Ekaterine expects some very busy times ahead as TAP prepares for submission and public disclosure of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) reports in Albania and Greece. “It will be really hectic before the construction starts in 2015,” she says. “We are looking forward to engaging with all the communities en route and reaching agreement with all landowners. I strongly believe that we have chosen the right approach to do this and we will have everyone on board by that time.”
All feedback is analysed and included in the Environmental Impact Assessment Documents (ESIA), which are also published in full on TAP’s website. http://www.trans-adriatic-pipeline.com/tap-project/health-safety-and-environment/environmental-and-social-impact-assessment/