The future of Bulgaria’s winter resort Bansko ski zone is no clearer after a three-hour meeting involving four Cabinet ministers, officials, conservationists and representatives of the concession-holder ended with no result.
The March 7 2016 meeting had been billed as intended to achieve consensus, but saw only the Cabinet ministers arguing in favour of a revision of some aspects of the concession contract while the conservation groups insisted that the concession should be terminated.
After the meeting, the conservationists said that until all documentation related to the Bansko concession is made public, there would be no point in further consultations.
The conservationists themselves came under attack in an open letter from 27 prominent Bulgarian sports people to Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, calling on the government to disregard the views of “a handful of pseudo-ecologists”.
The fate of Bansko’s ski zone has been disputed for years, including over plans for a second ski lift, given that current facilities cannot cope with demand in the peak winter ski season and queues back up at lift stations.
Environment Minister Ivelina Vassileva told the March 7 meeting that significant shortcomings related to the provisions of the contracts with the concession-holder were very difficult to prove and should the contract be terminated, the losses to the state would run into millions.
Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova said that the termination of the contract would result in the loss of jobs for residents of the regions of Bansko and Razlog.
The Minister of Youth and Sport, Krassen Kralev, ending the contract would have adverse implications for the development of winter sports in Bulgaria.
Petar Petrov, representing concession-holders Ulen, told the meeting that there were no grounds for terminating the concession, which he described as successful, and he indicated that should the concession be terminated, the company would take court action against the state.
The findings of an interdepartmental working group were presented at the meeting. The group said that following an analysis of the concession agreement for the ski area, it became clear that there were discrepancies in the contract with the current legislation, but there were no breaches significant enough to terminate the contract.
Milka Gecheva of the national construction control directorate said that since 2003 checks had been carried out in the Bansko ski zone, including at the order of prosecutors, but neither breaches were found nor any illegal construction.
The “For the Nature in Bulgaria” coalition, however, insisted that there was illegal construction in the area.
The coalition rejected a call by Vassileva to amend the concession contract to provide for tighter control and a change of the concession fee.
It said that it had been denied the opportunity to present evidence of violations of the law. The coalition reiterated various demands, including for all documents related to the construction and ownership of facilities in the Bansko ski zone in the Pirin National Park be made public, and until this was done, there was no point in further consultations.
Bulgarian National Radio reported on March 7 that the open letter to Borissov, which condemned the “handful of pseudo-ecologists”, also said that suspending the concession contract would mean huge losses.
The letter, in support of the development of Bulgarian sports and winter tourism, was signed by, among others, Bulgarian snowboard champion Radoslav Yankov, top snowboarder Alexandra Zhekova, former Olympic competitor Stefka Kostadinova and Bulgarian Alpine skier Petar Popangelov.