WWF has called for an extension of the period of public discussions on the Danube shipping case

Climate / Bulgaria , Ecology
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The thousands-page environmental impact assessment report was released for public access on the last working day before Christmas for just 30 days

The nature protection organization WWF Bulgaria has asked the Ministry of Environment and Water (MoEW) to extend the deadline for access to the documentation before the public discussion of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) in connection with the project to improve navigation on the Danube River. It envisages changing the conditions for navigation in the Bulgarian-Romanian section of the Danube through dredging, i.e. by deepening the bottom in 12 sections of the river. In addition, in three places - near the town of Becket, the town of Belene and the village of Popina - it is planned to build large engineering facilities in the form of artificial islands, buns and chevrons to direct the river flow.

According to WWF, the period in which citizens can familiarize themselves with the voluminous information on the case should be extended by at least one month or until February 22, 2024. The reasons for this are: the large-scale documentation of the case, the great importance of the project, as well and the serious number of affected countries – 12 municipalities and over 70 town halls. The contractor for the project to improve navigation conditions in the common Bulgarian-Romanian section of the river, known as the Fast Danube, is the Executive Agency "Research and Maintenance of the Danube River".

The procedure was announced on December 22, 2023 – the last working day before the Christmas and New Year holidays. In addition to shortened familiarization times, this also implies that information about the procedure will reach the affected parties with a delay. The shortening of deadlines is a serious problem given the substantial volume of documentation: the total volume of texts, tables, maps and drawings amounts to more than 7,500 pages.

"The matter is complex, it takes time even just to orientate which are the most important documents that need to be reviewed depending on the interest of the parties involved. The provisions of the EIA Ordinance state that the period for public access is "at least" 30 days". This means that the competent authority can set a longer term," commented Katerina Rakovska, senior expert "Policies and Biodiversity" at WWF.

The concerns related to the implementation of this large-scale project, covering the entire course of the Danube River in Bulgaria, are on several levels. The data from the report, as well as opinions of experts in geodesy, indicate that there is a real danger of activation of old landslides located on the higher Bulgarian coast, especially in the area of the town of Oryahovo and the villages of Orsoya, Dobri Dol, and others. An increase in coastal erosion is also possible, with the risk of negative impacts on groundwater, drinking wells, fisheries and further lowering of the river level at very low water levels.

"These questions are of particular weight given the frequent droughts and the record low levels of the Danube throughout 2022 and the fall of 2023. An effect is also expected on the river and riverside ecosystems, including wetlands, as well as on the protected and rare animal species along the river. This also affects the endangered sturgeon fish, whose last refuge on the territory of the European Union is the lower reaches of the Danube," warns Stoyan Mihov, head of the "Waters" program at WWF.

WWF appeals to local people, fishing communities and local administrations to ask institutions for comprehensible information on issues that affect them and a reasonable time frame for getting familiar with it.

Link to the documentation - on the website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

At the moment, the public discussions in the twelve affected municipalities are scheduled for the period between January 23 and 30, 2024. They can be checked on the website of the respective municipality.

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