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(DF) Environmentalists Urge Discontinuation of Procedures for Struma Motorway Kresna Gorge Section

January 21 (BTA) – Environmental organizations on Tuesday urged the Road Infrastructure Agency (RIA) to discontinue the contract award procedures for building Lot 3.2 of the Struma Motorway via the Kresna Gorge. Speaking at a BTA-hosted news conference, Petko Kovachev of the Green Policy Institute (GPI) proposed drawing up detailed site development plans for two possible designs for Lot 3.2. One of the designs is a split road, with one carriageway going through the Kresna Gorge and the other bypassing the gorge on the east. The second design referred to by Kovachev involves the building of a long tunnel. The GPI further called for a new contractor selection procedure for Lot 3.2. The Institute also wants the environmental impact report to be rewritten in accordance with European Commission recommendations and to be put up for public consultation. On January 15, the RIA said that Bulgaria had withdrawn its application for EU co-financing for the construction of the Struma Motorway section via the Kresna Gorge (Lot 3.2). The RIA added that the institutions concerned will prepare an application which will take account of the environmental policy priorities of the new European Commission. Back in October, the Commission notified Bulgaria that EU funding will not be made available for Lot 3.2, because the road is planned to pass through protected areas, and also because the construction time schedule and the estimated costs are unreasonable. The government has approved the above-mentioned “split road” design for this motorway section, but a number of NGOs have protested against it as they fear that the damage to protected species and habitats in the Kresna Gorge would be too big. At Tuesday’s news conference, the GPI’s Petko Kovachev estimated that it is possible to choose an adequate alternative and complete the public consultations by this autumn, and the RIA can be ready with a new EU co-financing application by the end of the year. This will allow construction of Lot 3.2 to begin next year. Kovachev noted that even before construction is completed, it is necessary to take measures against road accidents in the Kresna Gorge and to protect biodiversity in the area, because one of the European Commission’s infringement procedures against Bulgaria is for irregularities which have already been committed and have impaired biodiversity. Assoc. Prof. Stoyan Beshkov of the National Museum of Natural History pointed out that there is no other place like the Kresna Gorge in Europe. It covers a very small area but is home to a remarkable variety of habitats and species. It is a highly significant area for the protection of butterflies in Europe and is bisected by a major bird migration route known as Via Aristotelis. National law has designated two protected areas in the gorge. Daniel Popov, who works with an organization called For the Earth, said that the southern part of the Lot 3.2 project should be redrawn and the future road should not pass through a place called Debela Zemya. A slight change of the route will be enough to bypass it. This option will completely satisfy EU institutions, Popov said. According to Kovachev, the environmentalists’ proposals will not delay the project beyond the 2027 deadline which was envisioned in the recently withdrawn application. RI/VE