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Ski Resort in Rila National Park, Bulgaria
If you visit Rila national park, Bulgaria you will not only see its beautiful lakes and the highest mountain of the Balkans. Big machines are now digging into the landscape, turning wild nature into a ski resort.
Bulgarian nature conservation organisations have united under the name “Let nature remain in Bulgaria” to stop the development. They claim that the investors are pressuring the government to ignore environmental protection and let them build a large scale ski resort with 21 slopes. The resort would cover 240 hectares, two-thirds of which would be inside the National Park.Latest developments: On Monday 21 Jan the World Wildlife Fund submitted a position paper on behalf of eight international NGOs, including the UIAA, to four Bulgarian Institutions (Parliament Chairman, Parliamentary Commission on Environment and Water, Ministry of the Environment and the State Forest Agency). Read more at the WWF web site
On Wednesday, Jan 23, Citizens for Rila and an NGO coalition organised a march in Sofia. This was done to mark that one year had passed since they submitted 50 000 signatures in support of a petition titled "So that Nature remains in Bulgaria". People were dressed as mountain climbers, skiers and tourists and carried head torches .‘We carry headlights to bring light to Bulgarian authorities, who often seem to make deals in the dark”, said Tsvetan Kosturkov, one of the organisers. Learn more and see pictures from the event here
The construction of a road and the first ski lift started already summer 2007. It is supported by the local municipality, but is in violation of Bulgarian and EU laws. The Bulgarian Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (BCMF), the UIAA and other international organisations have signed a letter urging Bulgarian authorities to immediately stop the construction of the lift and the road. Individuals can also show their support by signing an online petition against the commercialisation of the national park.
According to Reuters, building projects which ignore laws and environmental regulations takes place all over Bulgaria, as the country becomes a popular tourism destination. Foreign investment has led to a massive rise in property prices and construction of hotels and ski resorts. The cost of land has risen from 20 to 250 euros per square meter in just five years. According to Reuters, “the flourishing corruption means many hotels, holiday homes and other investments are built on illegally acquired land or without necessary permits.”
This is exactly what “Let nature remain in Bulgaria” says is happening in Rila, which is Bulgaria’s largest national park. The park is part of the EU’s Natura 2000 ecological network. This network was created to protect the most seriously threatened habitats and species across Europe. There has not been made an up to date assessment of what impact the construction will have on this vulnerable environment. The investors have not even got a permission to build on public land.
The only reaction from Bulgarian authorities has been to give a fine of 5000 Euros to the Mayor of Sapareva Banya town for building the new road. However, the construction work continues and the mayor has announced he will not pay the fine. The authorities also rejected to make the buffer zone around the park a Natura 2000 site. It was the only of 225 proposed new such sites to be rejected.
The protesters believe this shows that investors are putting massive pressure on the Bulgarian Ministry of the Environment and Water to allow the resort to be built. Recently the Bulgarian national park director was fired. The director had been a strong supporter of environmental protection and under his leadership Bulgaria became the first country to have a second so-called PAN Park. The PAN Parks foundation was established by the World Wildlife Fund to provide better long-term conservation and tourism management of National parks. Nature conservation organisations in Bulgaria believe the director lost his job because he was against ski development projects in the park.
Citizens and nature conservation organisations have not given up on stop the building of the ski resort. They have written letters and position papers to all relevant institutions and the European Commission, organised debates, street protest marches and concerts in Sofia; and protests on the spot in Rila. Click here for the “Let nature remain in Bulgaria” web site and pictures of the building work and protests.