Cabinet Okays Modified Management Plan for Pirin National Park, Enabling Concessionaireto Propose Construction of New Skiing Facilities
Sofia, December 28 (BTA) - At its last meeting for the year on Thursday, the Bulgarian Government approved a modification of the Pirin National Park Management Plan, Environment and Water Minister Neno Dimov told a news briefing.
The modification was proposed by Bansko Municipality and was laid before the Cabinet by the Minister.
Dimov explained that another decision assigned him, if an investor shows interest in building a second gondola lift in the ski area, to take urgent measures consistent with environmental legislation, for the soonest possible implementation of such a project. In his words, this opens an opportunity for the development of skiing in Bansko and sends a good signal about the development of skiing countrywide. Dimov assured the media that whatever development proposal is declared, it will be subjected to all procedure required by environmental legislation: an environmental impact assessment, an environmental assessment, and an assessment of conformity with the protection regimes.
Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov added that the "exceedingly responsible and strategically important" decisions adopted on Thursday are a significant step towards addressing the problem of the Bansko ski area and for the creation of conditions for mountain tourism in Mt Pirin. He said that a similar approach will be taken shortly to the other mountain resorts, in the Balkan Range, the Rhodopi Mountains and Mt Vitosha.
The Pirin National Park (Southwestern Bulgaria) is a UNESCO world natural heritage site. In late November, the WWF conservation organization warned that the proposal to modify the management plan practically implies lifting the ban on building ski runs and other skiing facilities on 7.6 per cent of the park's area. Under the regime that was effective so far, such development was allowed on only 0.6 per cent of the park's area.
Bulgarian ecologist organizations argue that the modification of the management plan has not been subjected to an environmental impact assessment. Approached by the For the Nature coalition, the European Commission said that the modification of the plan requires an environmental assessment and the Commission will launch an infringement procedure against Bulgaria if EU environmental legislation is not complied with.
The position of the Government is that such an assessment is unnecessary.
Proponents and opponents of the changes concerning the Bansko ski area staged protests before the Cabinet meeting on Thursday.
Residents of Bansko, led by the town's Mayor Georgi Ikonomov, blocked the E-79 international road to Greece at Simitli for some 20 minutes to press demands for a decision in favour of building a second gondola in the ski area. They argue that the single existing ski lift cannot cope with the skiing crowds and the conservation ban holds back the development of the entire area as a tourist destination. During the protest, Ikonomov said that the gondola project is backed by the mayors of all 14 municipalities in Blagoevgrad Region. He insisted that, contrary to ecologists' allegations, centuries-old forests will not be felled and the nature in the protected site will not be damaged, and that the procedures required by the law will be strictly followed.
For their part, environmentalists gathered in front of the Council of Ministers building. In their opinion, the modifications will legalize all violations of domestic and EU law committed so far by the ski area concessionaire, Ulen AD, including the seizure of parts of the national park outside the concession area, and will allow it to carry out new construction that will wipe out centuries-old forests.