Bulgarian Parliament voted at first reading the new amendments to the Forestry Act on July 25, replacing the controversial set of legislative changes that sparked a week’s worth of protests from eco-campaigners in Sofia in mid-June.
The earlier amendments were vetoed by President Rossen Plevneliev following several rallies during which thousands of people gathered in central Sofia and blocked one of the city’s main thoroughfares in protest over what they called a “lobbyist law” meant to ease regulations on ski resort developers.
Most controversially, the old bill would have allowed developers to build new sports facilities and infrastructure unchecked in state-owned forests without acquiring change-of-land use permits. Other amendments eased the restrictions on logging under certain conditions.
Following the presidential veto, a number of meetings between MPs from Parliament’s agriculture committee and nature conservation NGOs followed – the previous amendments had a shortened public discussion period that fell during the winter holidays, which only further strengthened suspicions that bill was being shoehorned to acquiesce to the demands of Vitosha Ski, the company that holds the concession on the ski lifts on Vitosha mountain near Sofia.
The resort operator said in December that it would halt operations of the ski lifts, ostensibly because the existing regulations were preventing the company from carrying out its contractual obligations. The company refused to operate the lifts even as Bulgaria saw the most snow in a decade this past winter.
The new amendments passed by Parliament on July 25 envision will allow resort operators to replace existing lifts – some of the lifts on Vitosha are more than 40 years old – but must keep new construction within the footprint of the old lifts, a proposal made by conservation groups during the public discussion of the law, but opposed by Vitosha Ski.
During the first-reading vote, MPs rejected an amendment in the spirit of the controversial proposal to allow developers to build new sports facilities and infrastructure unchecked – provided a local municipality owned at least half the project.
In related news, Vitosha Ski said that it would resume operations of two of the lifts on Vitosha Mountain – from Simeonovo to Aleko peak and from Dragalevtsi to Goli Vruh – on July 28. These are slated to work until early-November and resume operation for the winter season at the start of December.