site.btaUPDATED Former Environment Minister Halts Kresna Gorge Projects over EC Letter
Former Environment Minister Borislav Sandov has stopped the implementation of projects in the Kresna Gorge after receiving a letter from the European Commission on July 27 pointing to non-compliance with EU regulations. This transpires from a Facebook post he published earlier this week.
The letter clearly states that, in compliance with European directives, the EC expects from the Bulgarian government a new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Natura 2000 compatibility assessment of the Struma Motorway for Lot 3.2 in the region of Kresna Gorge, in which all possible alternatives are fully and equally evaluated again, said Sandov.
"The EC unequivocally emphasizes that the choice of alternatives cannot be pre-judged and that the EC services will closely monitor all actions on the project and will ensure compliance with environmental legislation, taking the necessary measures in this direction, if necessary," he explained.
Sandov added that a day before the letter from the EC, on July 26, he indicated the same circumstances to the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works, telling him that in order to comply with the requirements of European and national legislation and not to lose European funds, it is necessary to prepare new EIA and compatibility assessment and that the decision on the EIA from 2017 cannot be applied.
"Taking into account the EC's letter, on August 1 I stopped two procedures for the construction of parts of Lot 3.2 of the Struma motorway under the Road Infrastructure Agency. Both actually violate European requirements, because they lead to the absence of a new EIA and compatibility assessment and predetermine the implementation of the alternative approved in 2017 - that is, not stopping them would lead to a direct violation of the European directives and the conditions of the EC and to subsequent measures by the EC towards Bulgaria," Sandov pointed out.
"Since the beginning of the government's mandate, I have pointed out that the fastest possible start of a new EIA and compatibility assessment for all possible alternatives outside the Kresna Gorge and the city of Kresna is the most important condition for speeding up the construction of the motorway, for obtaining and preserving European funding and for preventing future infringement proceedings," Sandov said.
"My decision is fully in sync with the Bulgarian legislation and the recommendations of the European Commission, including the letter of DG REGIO (the EC Department for Regional and Urban Policy) to the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works and the Ministry of Environment and Water. My decision does not put EU funds at risk and Bulgaria will not pay back money as a result of this decision," he also wrote.
Road Infrastructure Agency to Contest Sandov's Decision
Later in the day, the Road Infrastructure Agency (RIA) said that it will appeal the decisions of former Minister of Environment and Water Borislav Sandov from August 1, 2022, related to the realization of the Struma motorway through the Kresna Gorge, said the RIA press centre.
In the letter received on 27 July 2022 from the EC, it is clearly stated that the determination of specific conservation objectives for the protected areas affected by the project is the main thing that Bulgaria should do. It is indicated that after the goals are defined and accepted, the evaluation of the project's compatibility with them should be revised, the RIA noted.
The objectives of the two protected areas affected by the project must be determined and accepted by the Ministry of Environment and Water. Unfortunately, for more than two years, they have not been approved and this prevents RIA from doing additional analysis in order to respond to the recommendations of the EC on the application form of the project. It is also not possible to fulfill the commitments made before the EC for the implementation of measures to preserve biodiversity, given the decision of August 1, 2022 issued by the Environment and Water Ministry.
The Road Infrastructure Agency has not stopped making efforts to improve and finalize the project documentation in order to meet all the recommendations of the EC.