Pirin: a Bulgarian natural jewel under threat

On December The Bulgarian government opened the Pirin National Park to new developments

Credit: Dido3

On Decembre 28, 2017, the Bulgarian government approved the amendments to the Pirin National Park management plan, proposed by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
This decision is opening the way for the construction of a second ski lift in the Bansko winter resort. For years, the town has lobbied in favour of a second lift, against environmental protection groups, who warn that any changes would lead to overdevelopment of the Pirin mountain range, a Unesco World Heritage site. The plan is to build a second ten-seat cabin line, with a capacity of 3,000 people per hour and a total length of 5.8 km.

Credit: www.bdmundo.com

According to Petko Tsvetkov, from “For nature in Bulgaria”, the project for the construction of the second lift in Bansko is only the first step towards the construction of 330 kilometers of ski tracks and 111 km of facilities in the forest territory of Pirin Park. These developments are present in the project presented in 2014 by Yulen, the Bansko ski area operator .
According to Yulen the forest area through which the new route will pass is only 0.017% of the territory of Pirin National Park. As usual in this case, this figure take into account only the area occupied by the skilift, but, adding the new ski tracks, the water tanks necessary for the snow guns, the service tracks to the various facilities, the impacted area will amount to 48% of the Park area.
Bansko Mayor Georgi Ikonomov announced that only 80 trees will be cut during the building of the new lift. P. Tsvetkov says that the promises of the concessionaire to plant five new trees for one cut tree were ridiculous. “We have heard these promises since 2000”, he noted. “We do not see this, on the contrary, we see that they plan to develop them, to organize new construction, which is contrary to the law”, Tsvetkov said.
The Cabinet’s press release indicates that the Environment Minister Neno Dimov was to “undertake urgent measures to prepare an environmental review, in line with current legislation” in case there was investor interest to build a new cablecar in the Bansko area.
Mr. Dimov vowed that any proposed investment would have to meet all the environmental review requirements, as quoted by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television. “Of course, this is also an opening for the development of alpine sports in Bansko and, perhaps, a good sign for such development in Bulgaria as a whole. There are significant economic implications. The timing is fortunate on the eve of the new ski season” he said.
Former President Rosen Plevneliev and the European Commissioner for Regional Policy, the Romanian Corina Crețu, who was, at this time, spending her holidays in Bansko, have given their support to the new project.
A report by news website Mediapool.bg, meanwhile, pointed out that the review of the contract with Yulen, which was to be conducted simultaneously with amendments to the Pirin National Park management plan, was postponed for 2018, when it would be subject to the new regulations of the amended Concessions Act, which will go into force in the first week of January 2018.
Mass demonstrations against the government’s decision have taken place in Sofia, on 28 and 29 décember. The environmentalists request that the Council of Ministers cancel the permission for the construction of the ski lift and call for a national protest on January 4th, 2018. The coalition “For nature in Bulgaria” recalls that the Council of Ministers has taken his decision ignoring the more than 1,000 written comments in the defense of the Park, expressed by individuals and NGOs, the national Protected Areas Act and the European Habitats Directive. “Thus, the Council of Ministers, rather than being a guardian of the rule of law and to inquire into violations of the National Park, is part of the corruption that reigns in Bulgaria” said environmentalists. They announced that they will challenge the decrees in court as soon as they are published.
Mountain Wilderness has long been campaigning for the preservation of the integrity of the Pirin National Park and against the thoughtless plans to extend the Bansko ski resort into the protected territory. The association gives its full support to the action of the collective “For nature in Bulgaria” and urges the Bulgarian government to respect its European commitments, removing the incriminated decrees and ensuring the inviolability of the territory of the Pirin National Park.

(Article credit: Hughes Thiebault)