The advent of spring 2015 has seen Bulgaria again caught up in controversies about construction projects in environmentally sensitive areas of the Black Sea coast, with one critic saying that a major part of the problem is that the law is toothless.
The catalyst for controversy in recent weeks was a project at the Camping South site at the Coral beach area, which sparked extensive domestic media coverage after conservationists drew attention to it. Reports about other alleged abuses in other places on the Black Sea coast soon followed.
The Camping South project, which the developers repeatedly have insisted is legal, involved the construction of bungalows not far from the shoreline in a dune area. Photographs of the foundation slabs, distributed to the media by environmental conservationists, prompted a public uproar.
Reportedly, the plan was to build 16 bungalows.
On April 16, it was announced that the regional inspectorate of environment and water in the Black Sea city of Bourgas had issued an order in terms of the Biological Diversity Act preventing the developers from proceeding with the construction at Camping South.
According to Environment and Water Minister Ivelina Vassileva, the order to suspend construction was given because the law required a compatibility assessment, and one had not been done.
She noted that the Tsarevo Municipality had issued a building permit in 2012, which the national construction supervision directorate had disputed in court and lost.
Vassileva said that after a previous controversy about construction in dune areas, the Black Sea Act had been amended in 2013 to provide more stringent measures, including a specific prohibition on construction in the zone up to 100 metres from the shoreline.
The same day, media reports quoted Tsarevo municipality’s chief architect (the equivalent of a town planner) Stanislav Nikolov as saying that the developer at Camping South, IF Favorit, would remove the concrete cast from the dunes at Camping South by June 1.
He said that this commitment had been given to him by Stamo Stamov on behalf of IF Favorit. The same day, however, reports quoted Stamov as saying that the construction project was not in a dune area, as recorded on a cadastral map.
Local media reported that officials from the Environment and Water Ministry, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Cadastre Agency, national construction supervision directorate and Tsarevo municipality would inspect the site to establish whether the construction project was on a dune area.
Also on April 16, Regional Development and Public Works Minister Liliyana Pavlova said that the Coral and Dolphin beaches (both of which have been the subject of various controversies over the years about development projects) would become “eco beaches”.
Pavlova said that concessions would be offered for the two beaches, and the concession-holders would be required to ensure more space for free-of-charge use of the beach, along with a requirement that facilities on the beach should be made of environmentally-friendly materials.
She said that the cabinet would on April 22 discuss the start of a procedure to award a concession for Coral beach, with a decision on the concession-holder by autumn and the concession to be for five years.
Soon after, local media reports said that just more than half of the private land behind the Coral beach would be expropriated from its owners by the state. This was because there were dunes on these properties, media reports quoted the Cadastre Agency as saying.
The reports quoted Pavlova as saying that the land would automatically become state property without compensation for the owners.
However, these reports brought a swift and indignant response from Pavlova’s ministry, saying that at no time had Pavlova spoken of nationalisation of private property, but only of defending the state’s interest according to the country’s constitution and laws.
The ministry said that Pavlova had been misquoted and misinterpreted.
In parallel, meanwhile, separate reports highlighted other projects on the Black Sea coast, including the backfilling of dunes at the Kiten camping area to build a house (reports described the area as “spattered with concrete), with the reports alleging that IF Favorit was behind the project. Stamov was quoted as denying that the site was a dune area and as saying that the backfilling had been done because of deep gullies left after the floods of summer 2014.
Primorsko municipality and the Bourgas regional inspectorate of environment and water, however, said that the backfilling had been done with earth from a nearby slope without any permits from the municipality.
The regional inspectorate said that it would impose a fine for backfilling the dunes. Public Works had challenged the project in 2013, issuing a suspension order, but this in turn had been challenged in court and the matter was now pedning in the Supreme Administrative Court.
Among the most critical voices throughout the latest round of controversies at the Black Sea has been political scientist Evgeni Dainov, who already on April 16 called for the resignation of cabinet ministers “who had not done their jobs, lied and come up with different and conflicting explanations every day”.
He said that the state was doing its job only after having been forced to by the citizens.
Enviroment Minister Vassileva rejected the charge, saying that there were “countless cases” in recent years, such as at Coral previously, the Golden Pearl project and Kara Dere where the state had taken action to protect nature and prevent construction.
But Dainov insisted in turn that this was not true. “Every time we use up our time and our money to force the state to do its job. There is no case in which the state has acted without the coercion of citizens.”
In a separate interview some days later, he added, “the state should stop saying that sand is not sand, dunes are not dunes, concrete is not concrete”.
On April 20, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television quoted architect Petko Evrev, deputy minister of regional development in two centre-right governments in the 1990s, as saying that protection of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast was weak, neglected and tardy.
He said that the Black Sea Coast Act, drafted in the early 1990s but adopted only in 2007, was “too crippled, too toothless and too poorly protects the public interest”.
He said that the original version of the law had envisaged a ban on construction within 200 metres from the shoreline. This had been reduced to 100 metres. The protected area zone had been proposed to be five kilometres but this had been reduced to two kilometres.
All of this, together with abuses, had led to overbuilding.
The same day, Bulgarian National Radio reported Valentin Yovev, former head of the Cadastre Agency, as saying that there would be no cases of inconsistencies regarding land at the Black Sea coast, as a result of discrepancies in mapping in 2012 and updates in 2013.