Development projects threaten Bulgaria’s largest national park
Sofia, Bulgaria – Bulgaria’s Rila National Park is coming under increasing pressure from developers who want to turn one of the country’s most pristine areas into new ski resorts.
Construction of a ski lift and road are already under way in and around the national park in the southwestern Rila Mountains, not far from the Seven Rila Lakes, considered by Bulgarians as one of the country’s most pristine areas.
As part of the Super Panichishte ski zone development project, about two-thirds of the ski runs are planned to be built inside Rila National Park, despite laws that prohibit any new construction in protected areas.
“The lift is being constructed without a concession agreement, which is necessary when building in national parks,” said Katerina Rakovska, a protected areas officer of WWF in Bulgaria.
“On top of this the road leading to the ski lift is being reconstructed without an environmental impact assessment.”
Following an on-site visit to the area in August 2007 by Bulgarian environmental officials, the mayor of the nearby town of Sapareva Banya has been fined €5,000 for allowing the building of a road without proper documents. Such penalties, however, have done little to stop the project from going forward.
“The Bulgarian environment minister was supposed to give an order to halt construction until a full investigation is completed,” Rakovska said. “This hasn’t happened and construction continues.”
Construction work is also going on next to the park in the Bodrost-Kartala area, where a single ski lift and ski run are currently being expanded. And, expansion of Bulgaria’s oldest ski resort, Borovets, is underway in the Rila Mountains, with plans to build new ski lifts inside the park.
“All the projects are going forward without the necessary permission by the authorities,” she added. “They are breaching the law.”
Protecting the park
A coalition of nature conservation organizations, including WWF, together with local citizen groups, have organized several demonstrations in Sofia, the capital, as well as in the national park, to stop the construction.
Rila was one of three national and nature parks in Bulgaria included in WWF’s For Sale Campaign last year; a campaign aimed at stopping the illegal construction works planned there.
Rila National Park has recently been certified for their commitment to the environment and sustainable development under the WWF-supported PAN (Protected Area Network) Parks initiative. The Rila Mountains, together with a buffer area around the mountains, are included in two of the EU’s Natura 2000 network of specially protected areas.
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