Bulgarian Left Wing Alerts EC about Controversial Forestry Act

Domestic | June 14, 2012, Thursday // 11:03|  views

Eco activists, who blocked traffic in downtown Sofia in sign of protest against the passing of the controversial Forestry Act, clashed with riot police Wednesday evening. Photo by Sofia Photo Agency

The opposition left-wing Coalition for Bulgaria is going to notify the European Commission about the amendments to the Forestry Act, passed by the Parliament Wednesday.

The decision was announced Thursday by Petar Korumbashev, Member of the Parliament from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP, speaking for Nova TV.

"We are going to request today a meeting with President, Rosen Plevneliev and ask him to use his right to veto the amendments. We are also going to alert the Constitutional Court about direct violations of the Constitution," said he, pointing out that according to the supreme law of the country, farming lands cannot be used for anything else.

On Wednesday, the Bulgarian Parliament passed definitively the controversial Forestry Act, allowing construction of ski tracks and lifts without changing the status of the land.

Korumbashev reiterated the opposition's opinion, already voiced in the plenary hall during the debates, that changing the status of the land generates revenues from fee payment and gives society a control tool.

He was countered by the Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Desislava Taneva, from the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party, GERB, who insisted that the amendments would give a green light for new investments.

Over 2 000 eco activists and their supporters gathered Wednesday evening at the area of Orlov Most (Eagles Bridge) in downtown Sofia to protest the passing of the amendments. The demonstrators blocked traffic on the city's main thoroughfare "Tsraigradsko Shosse" by sitting on the road. This triggered direct clashes with riot police. The eco activists rallied without a permit since the protest was organized through the social network Facebook. 12 people were arrested.

This and other recent protests were initially sparked 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: Bansko, Pirin, rally, protest, march, Yulen, protected areas, environmentalists, Miroslav Naydenov, Vitosha Ski, ski, Vitosha, lifts, tourism, Bulgarian Association for, Boyko Borisov, GERB, parliament, MPs, offshore companies, Forestry Act, NGO, For Keeping Nature in Bulgaria, Constitutional Court, Rosen Plevneliev, president, veto, European Commission, GERB, BSP, Petar Korumbashev, Desislava Taneva, Coalition for Bulgaria, Borovets


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