Outgoing Bulgarian government puts UNESCO World Heritage site in danger



Posted on 20 February 2013  | 
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WWF in Bulgaria has criticised in the strongest terms the decision of the outgoing Bulgarian government to allow amendments to the Management Plan of Pirin National Park, which will open up the protected area to further construction. The decision came just hours before Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told the Bulgarian Parliament that he was stepping down and that the government would resign, following mass protests over the price of electricity.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Expert Environmental Council at the Ministry of Environment, convened by Environment Minister Nona Karadzhova, allowed amendments to the management plan of Pirin National Park, which legitimize all breaches of legislation in the park so far and allow further construction. This is a green light for current plans, which envisage another 20-30 km of ski runs and at least two new ski lifts in the controversial Bansko Ski Zone in the heart of Pirin National Park.

In breach of three EU directives - on habitats, birds and strategic environment assessment, the decision was taken without the obligatory strategic environmental assessment and without appropriate assessment of the effects on the Natura 2000 habitats and species.

One of only three national parks in Bulgaria, Pirin National Park was declared UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, and in 2007 it became part of the EU’s environmental network Natura 2000. The amendments pose new threats to the unique landscape of Pirin National Park as a world heritage and will make the development of sustainable tourism in Pirin impossible.

“The decision thoroughly alters the concept of managing protected areas in Bulgaria and aims to remove all relevant restrictions from the Protected Areas Act and the Management Plans of Protected Areas, such as Rila National Park, Central Balkan National Park and Vitosha Nature Park”, said Vesselina Kavrakova, Head of WWF in Bulgaria.

“Over the recent months Bulgarians have been protesting against the mighty monopolies and against corrupt practices in the governance of the country across the board. What we have witnessed today is a prime example of probably corrupt practices at work. In the eleventh hour of this government a decision was taken which would serve investor interests, flouting all international environmental legislation”.

“Unfortunately, decisions that go against the public interest and contravene EU and Bulgarian legislation are not a good sign for democracy in Bulgaria”, Kavrakova said.

More about Pirin National Park

In 2001, under similar circumstances and in the last days of the government, a concession contract for a ski zone in Pirin National Park was signed. The concession rights were given to Yulen JSC, whose present major shareholders are two offshore companies and Bansko municipality.

As a result of the concession contract Bansko Ski Zone was built. According to reports in the press Yulen JSCo is connected to Mr Tseko Minev – shareholder of a private bank and president of the Bulgarian Ski Federation. Mr Tseko Minev is considered by many as one of Bulgaria’s all powerful businessmen.

In 2009 an analysis of a satellite picture of Bansko Ski Zone demonstrated that it exceeds the territory designated by the concession twice. Nearly two years later, following mounting public pressure, Bulgaria's Minister of Environment admitted that the concessionaire Yulen SCo was using a territory larger by about 65 ha than the one designated by the concession. This makes around 40% of Bansko Ski Zone illegal. If the construction of up to 30 km new ski runs goes ahead, this would double the actual size of the ski area, making it three times bigger than what the concession permits.

Because of Bansko Ski Zone and the continuing attempts for its enlargement, UNESCO declared that either Bulgaria should guarantee that the construction of ski resorts in Pirin National Park will be stopped or UNESCO will designate it as a world natural heritage site in danger, which would have consequences for the image of Bulgaria.

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