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The Real Alps: The Valley of the Haute-Durance Is In Danger

Stéphanie Bodet  /  Jan 30, 2017  /  5 Min Read  /  Climbing, Activism

Nico Favresse spreads the word: “No to THT.” Photo: Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll

I was lucky to grow up in the valley of the Haute-Durance, located in the Hautes-Alpes not far from Briançon and the border to Italy. Home was a wild and protected area where my parents introduced me to the joys of mountain trails, skiing on beautiful slopes through evergreens and climbing on pristine cliffs. Later in life, I found myself drawn back home by the simple pleasures that the region offers, a lifestyle that felt difficult to find in most other places. In the Haute-Alpes I rediscovered a simple life, a life in harmony with nature.

The Real Alps: The Valley of the Haute-Durance Is In Danger

A classic ski touring line in the La Blanche area of the Haute-Alpes. Photo: Jan Novak

Yet, as I write these words, a feeling of deep sadness and anger consumes me, because the valley of the Haute-Durance is undergoing unfathomable destruction. Under the pretext of “renovating” existing power lines, the installation of two high-voltage power lines has commenced. The project is as absurd as it is costly. One of the last authentic regions in France will be sacrificed to create an electricity highway even though the Hautes-Alpes has been deemed an “energy positive, green growth region.” Realistically, it seems these high-voltage lines are being built to deliver excess energy production across the border to Italy for private profit.

The negative impact this project will have upon the region’s booming tourism business is not the only issue that concerns me. The unique natural heritage of the region will also be irrevocably impacted, along with the well-being of the locals, as there are grave concerns regarding the potential negative impacts of high-voltage power lines upon human health. The lack of acknowledgement by prominent media, the silence of the Ecrins National Park on this issue, and the threats and demonization that are facing the activists fighting against this project, forced us to take a closer look at the clear lack of democratic process underlying this project, something inconceivable in a country that gave birth to social rights and the people’s voice.

The Real Alps: The Valley of the Haute-Durance Is In Danger

A scar across the Haute-Alpes. Film still courtesy of Yucca Films

This short-term vision and the blind eye turned by elected officials are scary to the extent that they suggest, in truth, the pursuit of wealth is all that matters when approving a project like THT (Très Haute Tension). There has been a blatant lack of a plan or vision to preserve the beauty and calm of this exceptional environment. The valley of the Haute-Durance is one of the most remarkable mountain valleys in all of France, delivering joy to citizens and visitors alike. As global development continues we will need more, not less environmental protection in places like the Hautes-Alpes in order to continue to stay connected to nature.

The Real Alps: The Valley of the Haute-Durance Is In Danger

Fighting with poetic weapons, balance, humour and boldness. Photo courtesy of No THT

I realize that some of our elected officials in the Hautes-Alpes have become confused. Their ambition for growth, to match the size of surrounding departments, and the desire to grow by embracing development projects fundamentally misses what makes the Haute-Alpes so special and timeless. The aspiration to surpass the status of a small, rustic region is understandable, but some of the very same people that dream of speed, progress and perpetual advancement will likely realize, only in hindsight, that slow living will be one of the dreams of the future.

The conservation efforts of locals who are working against the backwards goals of developers bring to light two views of the possible evolution of France. Energy is at a crucial turning point in France right now because of recent nuclear disasters. We all dream of energy that comes from a less destructive and dangerous source. Our elected officials, our senators, the public, yearn to diversify energy sources, yet somehow we seem incapable of changing course. Initiating an energy revolution is essential to our survival, yet we stubbornly continue in the same direction with arrogance and ignorance.

Photo: Jan Novak

Monika enjoys golden hour on Mount Dauphin. A view we hope to preserve. Photo: Jan Novak

This issue is buzzing around the tourist offices of the region. If we aren’t careful, we might follow it out of the offices in the valleys up to the lines and pylons that have destroyed the mountains, the trails, the ski tours, the parapont launches, climbing schools and hostels where people have come to immerse themselves and recharge in wild, uninterrupted nature. These “real Alps,” as the region is known, have been selected as one of the most unique and beautiful regions in France where people come in hopes of a life, as a local or a tourist, that is simple, pure and beautiful—not in search of riches but rather quality of life. Can’t we leave this place in peace and without regret?

I feel stronger than ever the need to support the local associations working to preserve the region (Avenir Haute-Durance and No THT). They have and will fight long and hard to take back their pristine environment and to remove the lines that were forced upon them without discussion or consideration for what would be lost. I leave you with a call for help, for hope and for clarity from everyone involved to help us resolve this issue and protect this important area so many of us love and enjoy.

Take Action!

Given the recent unpermitted building of pylons and roads through protected areas, it is important that the voices of opposition to THT are heard. Please sign the petition and help us preserve the culture, beauty and natural peace that make the Haute-Alpes so remarkable.

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