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An important Bulgarian spa resort threatened by a motorway construction

Dear Active Bankwatcher,

Once again we need your support. Thanks to your help in May this year the European Commission requested the Bulgarian Government to carry out a new public consultation before a new environmental permit could be issued for the controversial Ljulin motorway.

Unfortunately, the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Waters disregarded the outcomes of the public consultations process and on October 28 issued a new environmental permit. Thus, formally at least, the Ministry fulfilled the condition for disbursement of the second tranche of a EUR 111 million ISPA grant for the project.

The approved route for the Ljulin motorway passes through the mineral springs and landslide protected zone of the famous Bankya spa complex. Bankya is a well-established resort for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases due to its unique microclimate. The increased pollution and smog resulting from new motorway traffic will have a profoundly detrimental impact on the spa complex. The route will also impact on three other nearby settlements that form a part of the sanitary zones of the resort and serve as a holiday area favoured by residents of Sofia. What's more the new construction will fail to reduce the heavy traffic currently passing through one of the Sofia's districts.

The local population disagreed with the conclusions of the EIA report and rejected the proposed route for the motorway during the new public consultations in September 2004. They believe that more environmentally friendly and adequate routes for the Ljulin motorway are possible. Their opinion was recorded in the protocols from the public hearings and in statements submitted to the Ministry of Environment.

In our view the Ministry had ample evidence to issue a negative decision on the Ljulin motorway construction. However, it appears that the consultation was only a formal step for proceeding with a new environmental permit and receiving funds from the EU for the motorway construction. The current practice of the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment in disregarding public opinion during environmental impact procedures - not restricted to this case - is a serious threat to the environment and democratic processes in Bulgaria. We believe that the European Commission should not provide public money for the Ljulin motorway as it has currently been approved.

Suggested action:
Send an e-mail or fax to the European Commission requesting that it conduct its own due diligence into the way public concerns were not taken into account.

EU Environment Commissioner
Margot Wallstrom
Fax: (+ 32) 229 81 899

Director of the ISPA and Preaccession Instruments
Luis Riera Figueras
Fax : (+ 32) 229 61 096

Sample letter:

Dear Mrs. Wallstrom, Dear Mr. Figueras,

I am writing to you regarding recent developments around the Ljulin Motorway in Bulgaria.

First, I would like to thank for your earlier strong position on the need for a new set of public consultations and a new environmental permit for the proposed controversial motorway's construction. It was a key signal to the Bulgarian Government about the importance of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure.

Unfortunately, malpractice in the implementation of the principles of the EIA procedure has taken place. The Bulgarian Ministry of Environment issued the new environmental permit for the motorway on October 28 with clear disregard for public opinion.

During the recent public consultations (September 27 - October 4) affected citizens and civil organisations rejected the presented EIA report and its conclusion. In their view the motorway will have a detrimental impact on the National Resort Bankja due to the specific thermal inversions in the region. The EIA report failed to make an adequate assessment of the motorway's likely impact on air quality, the region's mineral water as well as human health.

In addition, the EIA report fails to acknowledge the lack of a real alternative route and also the lack of a real solution for the heavy traffic currently passing through one of Sofia's districts.

It is vital that public opinion be adequately reflected in the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment's decision. The Ministry's behaviour is a serious threat to the protection of the environment and the democratic process in Bulgaria.

Therefore, I appeal to the European Commission to conduct its own due diligence into the way public concerns were (or were not) taken into account. I strongly believe that the Commission should not disburse money for the Ljulin motorway project in view of the violations of civil rights and environmental standards, which have dogged the project's implementation.

I would very much appreciate hearing from you

Yours sincerely,

Read more about the Ljulin motorway project at Za Zemiata's web site:

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