Protests continue in Bulgaria today as citizen groups and NGOs in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and Kazanlak voice their opposition to the expansion of the Bansko Ski Zone, site of the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup events last month.
A recent proposal to change the Bulgarian Forest Act would allow ski runs and facilities to be constructed in the protected areas of the Vitosha Nature Park and Pirin National Park and has been approved by the Bulgarian Parliament.
One of the changes would allow authorities to hand out permits for construction of lifts and runs without changing the designation of the land first. This was an amendment turned down in early 2011 because conservationist groups were enraged and arguing that it essentially gave authorities free reign to aid ski resort companies hoping to build in protected areas.
The same issues are prevalent today, and now UNESCO is getting involved. Pirin National Park, one of the areas protected under the current Bulgarian Forest Act, has been on the list of Natural Heritage Sites since 1983. UNESCO is now threatening to declare the area a “world natural heritage site in danger” unless there is a guarantee that all construction of ski resorts in the National Park is stopped.
A group of nearly 30, mostly environmental organisations, including the WWF released a statement saying, “If passed as proposed, the amendments would go against the public interest and contravene EU and Bulgarian legislation on competition as well as nature protection. They would allow for the construction of ski runs and ski facilities without changing land use. Furthermore, they would allow the acquisition of building rights on public land without tender and for an indefinite period.”
The statement continued by saying, “In February 2012 two stages of the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup were organized in Bansko Ski Zone where 40% of the ski runs in Pirin National Park are illegally constructed by Yulen JSC. Last week a leaked government report revealed that the Council of Ministers is taking steps to exclude 12% of the Pirin Mountain from the UNESCO World Heritage List. “
The wildlife groups suggest that Bansko, operated by Yulen JSC, has been building outside of the 99.5 hectoacres given to them in Pirin National Park by a concession in 2001.
Bansko isn’t the only area to be concerned with legal matters. The ski area of Vitosha near Sofia didn’t open this season due to being unable to operate within legal guidelines. They must clear the underbrush from under the lift, but because they are in a national forest area, they could not do so.
Bulgaria’s Agriculture Minister and head of the Forrest Agency has spoken in support of the controversial amendments earlier this year, because they will open the door to more ski and mountain tourism.