Bulgarian Eco Activists with New Rally against Forestry Act

Environment | June 6, 2012, Wednesday // 17:47|  views

Bulgarian environmentalists and winter sports lovers have staged several protest rallies in Sofia to voice outrage about new legal amendments that would alleviate construction in the nearby Vitosha Mountain. Photo by BGNES

Bulgarian environmentalist staged once again Wednesday a protest rally against looming amendments to the Forestry Act.

It was organized by the coalition of NGOs, known as "For Keeping Nature in Bulgaria" with the support of other civic organizations.

The demonstrators gathered in front of the building of the Parliament in downtown Sofia wearing masks of politicians and oligarchs with the massage the scandalous amendments benefit only them.

The Members of the Parliament attempted on several occasions already a second reading of the Bill, but it had been postponed every time over heated debates, leading to the end of the workday without any reached agreement.

At the rally, the eco-activists reiterated demands to the MPs to not pass the amendments, which give big investors rights to build in Bulgarian mountains. They insist if passed they will doom Bulgaria to cheap felling of State and private woods to build ski lifts and tracks, to landslides and floods.

According to them, the forests in protected areas of Bulgaria, which occupy only 5% of the country, will be the most vulnerable. The new Act will be further proof that the State does not serve public interest, but private economic interests of one businessman, banker Tseko Minev. Minev, through his offshore companies - ski operators Yulen and Vitosha Ski, now controls 3 of the 4 major ski areas in Bulgaria - Bansko, Borovets and Vitosha.

The Coalition further points out that the government plans to "cut" 12% from the territory of the National Park "Pirin," which is one the UNESCO world natural heritage list, with the sole goal to allow the expansion of the Bansko ski area.

This and other recent protests were triggered by Vitosha Ski's refusal to turn on lifts and other ski facilities on the Vitosha Mountain at the beginning of December 2011 on the grounds texts from the Forestry Act were making such activity illegal.

The current law mandates owners of such equipment and facilities to have an established "servitude" (a status for full-rights on the use of real estate) in order to clean and secure the lifts paths. Vitosha Ski cannot apply for such servitude because they do not have an approved comprehensive development plan (PUB).

The company proposed a PUB for a new ski zone, but it was rejected because it included protected territories and because the environmental assessment was not done according to the rules. The company attacked the decision of the Ministry of Environment and Waters in Court, but left their PUB unchanged.

The Directorate of the Vistosha "Natural Park" countered that the paths of the lifts can be cleaned without the servitude and through the rent contract. The Forestry Agency confirmed they are not against and would not interfere with the use of ski tracks and lifts.

Nevertheless, "Vitosha Ski" did not turn on the lifts, withdrew their ski instructors, and demanded amendments in the Forestry Act, interpreted by many as an attempt to blackmail the State by opposing winter sports lovers and the institutions. The move deprived Sofia residents and visitors from enjoying skiing near the capital for the entire winter season.

At the last meeting of the cabinet in 2011, its members voted the amendments, providing for an alleviated process of construction of ski facilities without the need to change the status of the land.

According to environmentalists NGOs, these amendments benefit the owners and are hidden State assistance because with them the owners will save about BGN 50-60 M in the next two years from expenses that would have been needed to change the status of the land.

At the time, the NGOs labeled the amendments a "Christmas gift for offshore business"- the latter represented by a handful of oligarchs with shady reputation, but Agriculture Minister, Miroslav Naydenov, countered they would contribute to the development of tourism and were not voted for the sake of just one company.

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Tags: masks, For Keeping Nature in Bulgaria, NGO, Forestry Act, offshore companies, MPs, parliament, GERB, Boyko Borisov, Bulgarian Association for, tourism, lifts, Vitosha, ski, Vitosha Ski, Miroslav Naydenov, environmentalists, protected areas, Yulen, march, protest, rally, Pirin, Bansko, Borovets


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