Bulgarian Environmentalist Rally against New Forestry Act
The first workday of Bulgaria's Parliament, after the winter holiday break, began with a protest rally of environmentalists.
People on bicycles, carryings skis, snow boards, playing music and dancing, gathered in front of the building of the Parliament Wednesday to say firm no to amendments in the Forestry Act. The posters and the slogans were mostly against the offshore company Vitosha Ski and Prime, Minister, Boyko Borisov.
The demonstrators shouted they were against covering Vitosha with concrete in exchange of pennies, and shouted "Mafia" and "Take Concrete out of the Law." The Wednesday rally in Sofia was entirely focused on protection of the nearby Vitosha, but the amendments would involve all Bulgarian mountains.
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.
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.
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.
The amendments are going to be examined by several Parliamentary Committees next week and then will be voted by the Members of the Parliament.
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