Deputy PM Simeonov: Second Gondola Lift to Be Built in Bansko

Sofia, November 20 (BTA) - A second gondola lift will be built in the Bansko skiing area (Southwestern Bulgaria) after the procedure for amending the effective Management Plan for the Pirin National Park is completed, Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov told a briefing on Monday.

The construction of a second gondola lift, which is the main purpose of the amendments to the Pirin Management Plan, will improve the tourists access to the skiing area. Simeonov and Environment Minister Neno Dimov said the new facility would reduce both waiting times and the damage to the environment because now many tourists drive up the mountain.

Simeonov also said the concessionaire, Ulen, would have to pay twice as high royalties as now for using part of a protected area in the Pirin National Park. He stressed that only new skiing facilities (lifts, tows and runs) and no hotels and guest houses would be built in the concession area.

The Environment Minister said the concession agreement of 2001 should be amended because the lack of experience at the time of its signing showed in provisions which led to disputes. For instance, it does not provide for sanctions for damage to the environment.

Both Simeonov and Dimov explained that the construction of a second gondola lift in Bansko would be subject to environmental impact assessment and public discussion after the government decides to amend the concession agreement on the Bansko ski area.

The participants in a roundtable concurred that queuing for hours at the only gondola lift must end. Simeonov said that the environmentalists' only concern was about possible tree-felling which may cause flooding.

Environmentalists and pro-development groups have been locked in a war of words over the fate of the Bansko ski area for several years now.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessed the state and prospects of the Pirin Park as follows: "Disturbance and fragmentation of the site associated with the exclusion of the skiing areas incompatible with World Heritage status (now part of the buffer zone) is of high concern, particularly considering the possible impacts of a further weakening of the conservation regime of the property, which might result from the new management plan, if approved as drafted.

"The management is relatively effective regarding daily tasks, but the power of the Park administration in the face of increasing interest in tourism development and resource use is very limited. The park administration is under severe economic constraints. Moreover, poor legal enforcement strongly affects the protection and management of the site. This, together with plans to approve a new management plan which would allow significant development of tourism infrastructure within the property and its buffer zone, as well as increased logging throughout the property, results in the overall assessment of protection and management as of 'Serious Concern'."

Source: Sofia