A five-judge panel of Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) has ruled on January 16 against the Cabinet’s changes to the Pirin National Park management plan, adopted in December 2017, which were meant to facilitate the construction of a second ski lift in the winter resort of Bansko.
The ruling, which is final, rejected the appeals lodged separately by the Council of Ministers and the Environment Ministry against the July 2018 decision by a three-judge panel of the SAC, which found that the government decision was in breach of the country’s environmental protection laws.
The court said in a statement that the judges took into account EU directives and previous cases at the European Court of Justice. In the end, they upheld the earlier panel’s ruling that the government was in breach of the protected territories, biological diversity and environmental protection acts by deciding that the changes to the Pirin national park management plan did not require an environmental impact assessment.
The amendments, tabled by the Bansko municipality, were widely seen as opening the way for the construction of a second ski lift in the winter resort and were approved by the government at its last meeting in 2017.
For years, the issue of the second lift in Bansko has pitted the municipality and local residents, who have lobbied in favour, against environmental protection groups, who fear that any changes would lead to over-development of the Pirin mountain range, a Unesco world heritage site.
The latest proposals rehashed the same debate, with the government seeking to allay the fears by saying that the tourist area, which includes the skiing slopes above Bansko, only covered two per cent of the Pirin National Park.
At the time the Pirin national park management plan was amended, the Cabinet said that Environment Minister Neno Dimov was to “undertake urgent measures to prepare an environmental review, in line with current legislation” in case there was investor interest to build a new cableway in the Bansko area.
(Bulgaria’s winter resort of Bansko. Photo: banskoblog.com)