For the Earth, they warn that with changes in the budget law, the completion of the Struma highway can begin with money of pensioners from the Silver Fund

Climate / Bulgaria
3E news
article picture alt description

Photo: Stratosheric Productions

The Council of Ministers protected the lobbying interests of construction companies of the Struma highway with a change in the budget law, which passed the first reading, announced today in a press release to the media from the ecological association "For the Earth". It enables the contracts of GBS and Gromahold to be financed with pensioners' money from the State Fund for Guaranteeing Sustainability of the State Pension System. The amendment proposal was submitted to the National Assembly on May 30, 2023 and is part of the 2022 budget law, which aims to extend its effect until the adoption of the budget for the current year.

On April 6, 2023, the Road Infrastructure Agency concluded contracts for the construction of lot 3.2. on the Struma highway in the area of Kresnen Gorge with the companies GBS and Gromahold worth approximately BGN 1.2 billion. The amount includes the performance control. A condition for their entry into force is the provision of an advance payment of approximately BGN 120 million or 10% of the total value. It is this amount that the Council of Ministers is currently trying to secure.

The problematic paragraphs and the proposed amendments in the Law on the Implementation of Provisions of the Law on the State Budget of the Republic of Bulgaria for 2022 are as follows:

- With the amendment of Art. 11, para. 4 of the Law on the Implementation of the State Budget 2022, it is possible to finance the contracts with funds from the national budget before there is approval by the European Commission for the projects and programs with European co-financing.

- With the repeal of paragraph 15 of the Transitional and Final Provisions of the Law on the Implementation of the State Budget 2022, it is possible to finance the contracts by unblocking the funds from the State Fund for Guaranteeing the Sustainability of the State Pension System and the funds under programs and projects of The European Union.

- With the addition of Art. 11, para. 2, item 9 of the Law on the Implementation of the State Budget 2022, the necessary legal reason is given for such a decision of the Council of Ministers on the basis of urgent expenses related to the security, life, health of people - with which to motivate the extraordinary and urgent financing of both contracts.

The planned version of the Struma motorway, included in them, does not meet the minimum requirements for the safety of the motorway. It has also not passed and been approved after a mandatory road safety assessment pursuant to Art. 3 of Directive 2008/96/EC on the safety management of road infrastructures.

The construction of the Struma highway outside the Kresnen Gorge could already be underway if the Ministry of Regional Development had launched a new environmental impact assessment procedure. After its long-term rule, the GERB government categorically refused to accept that according to Bulgarian and European legislation the last section should be outside the protected area.

"The civil organizations from the coalition "Let's save Kresnen Gorge and Kresna" call on the people's representatives - if these controversial paragraphs are accepted, to also adopt a text in the law, not allowing the financing of Lot 3.2 of AM Struma with budgetary funds before the final approval of the European Commission. ", says Andrey Kovachev from SDP Balkani.

Just a few days ago, acting regional minister Ivan Shishkov explained that the construction of the highway through the Kresnen Gorge had to start in order not to expire the EIA from 2017. But the Commission has repeatedly stated that it does not approve this EIA and will not finance the section, and now the office is looking for options for starting construction.

Saving the Kresnen Gorge is a more than 20-year campaign - a cause behind which biologists, environmentalists and nature lovers, non-governmental organizations stood. Personalities such as mountaineer Boyan Petrov and former Prime Minister Kiril Petkov.

The Kresnen Gorge is the place with the highest biological diversity in Bulgaria in a very small area - for example, there are only 122 species of butterflies per square kilometer. There are a total of 3,500 species of flora and fauna. The gorge is a highly vulnerable and fragile ecosystem on the border between temperate and Mediterranean climates and a very narrow corridor of connection between the two zones and protected species living in them from both zones along the valley and slopes of the gorge. The gorge is an important migration route for the bear and the wolf between Pirin and the mountains on the border with Macedonia.

For local people, the 2017 version of the GERB will result in a lack of a safe local road to the villages of Stara Kresna and Oshtava, to agricultural lands and pastures. All vineyards, gardens and pastures inside the Kresnen Gorge under the Road Traffic Act will become completely inaccessible to local people. Kresna's most valuable farmland will be destroyed. It will become impossible to practice rafting and visit the gorge by tourists.

For both humans and wildlife, the intense transit traffic on the gorge road leads to death and accidents - a problem that can only be solved by moving the transit traffic to a highway route (with all the requirements and qualities of a highway) outside the gorge, and the path through the gorge to remain local.

The project for a route through the Kresnen Gorge, which will cost the state budget BGN 1.2 billion, is actually not a highway, but a first-class road, will not improve the safety of traffic through the gorge, is in sharp conflict with the interests of local residents for access to administrative and health services in Blagoevgrad, as well as will destroy established livelihoods in the Kresnen Gorge - adventure tourism, winemaking and agriculture.



More from Bulgaria: