Bulgaria’s construction ban on Cape Kaliakra incites heated protests, recriminations
A blanket ban on new construction in north-western Bulgaria, in areas around Cape Kaliakra on the Black Sea coast, has incited a protest by local residents, prompting Prime Minister Boiko Borissov to order the Environment Ministry to temporarily withdraw its ordinance.
The protests on August 4 came just two weeks after Environment Minister Neno Dimov presented the details of the new regulation to the mayors of several municipalities in the area. On that occasion, Dimov hailed the ministry’s orders as “the most beneficial for Bulgaria” because it allowed existing projects that were built in the protected area around Cape Kaliakra, including six separate wind power parks and the Thracian Cliffs Golf & Spa Resort, to avoid demolition.
The new regulations were issued as a result of a settlement between Bulgaria and the European Commission in relation to a conservation lawsuit that Bulgaria lost in the European Court of Justice. In its January 2016 ruling, the court found that Bulgaria failed to protect unique habitats and important species in the Kaliakra special protection area at the Black Sea coast.
However, the wording of the ministry’s regulations was vague enough to raise fears among local residents that, in addition to banning new construction, the order would also outlaw farming and fishing in an area where these activities, alongside tourism, are the main sources of income for the region’s residents.
Borissov’s request for repealing the regulation was promptly answered by the Environment Ministry on August 5, which said that its ban was being overturned at the express orders of the prime minister and as a result of “the tension among residents of Kavarna, Shabla and Balchik municipalities”.
The construction and farming ban only applied to a very limited area alongside the coast and there was no ban on fishing, Dimov said in a TV interview on August 7.
But to environmentalists defending the construction ban, there was a more sinister explanation for the recent row, namely that the ministry had intentionally failed to explain it regulation, expecting the exaggerated reaction of local residents and planning to repeal the ban all along.
Speaking at a news conference on August 7, Andrei Kovachev of the Balkani conservation association accused the ministry of acting for the benefit of private interests that acquired land in the protected areas. He said that the environmental group was in agreement with the local residents, who protested against the lack of transparency in the ministry’s decision-making process.
Bulgaria’s prosecutor’s office also became involved on August 7, saying in a statement that the high administrative prosecution would investigate the legality of the ministry’s ordinance that imposed the construction ban.
(Electricity-generating windmills at wind farm Kaliakra, Bulgaria. Photo (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)