Legal complaint lodged to save protected Bulgarian Gorge from destructive motorway
A controversial EU-funded motorway is allegedly already breaking EU nature laws. Its completion through the Kresna Gorge nature reserve would be catastrophic for protected animals and plants in the region. A legal complaint calls on the Commission to investigate breaches of EU law.
12 July 2017
The beautiful Kresna gorge.
Brussels/Sofia, July 6th – A legal complaint submitted today to the European Commission by NGOs  alleges that the construction of a controversial EU-funded motorway is already breaking EU nature laws, and warns that completing the final section through Kresna Gorge nature reserve would be catastrophic for protected animals and plants in the region.  The complaint calls on the Commission to investigate breaches of EU law, and could result in the Bulgarian government being taken to the European Court of Justice, and hefty fines.
The 16km-long Kresna Gorge is the most biodiverse region in Bulgaria, home to 92 protected species, and part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected areas. More species of butterfly live in one square kilometre of Kresna Gorge than in all of the UK.
Two good alternatives exist to complete the E79 highway, which links Germany with Bulgaria and Greece, without disturbing the protected Gorge and in compliance with EU legislation, according to NGO experts. 
However in April, the Bulgarian Government announced designs to build half of the Struma Motorway through the Gorge.  NGOs assess that this would irreversibly damage the nature haven and would breach EU nature laws. 
The Bulgarian government has already pressed ahead with construction of the motorway at either end of the Gorge, funnelling extra traffic through it. The legal complaint notes that this breaches the EU Habitats Directive on two counts, and has already led to an increase in road killings and population decline of a number of protected species. 
Desislava Stoyanova, campaigner at Za Zemiata/Friends of the Earth Bulgaria said:
The Bulgarian government has two good options to prevent our richest nature site from being destroyed, but seems set on senselessly ploughing ahead and wiping out Kresna’s wildlife. The European Commission has no choice now but to seriously consider the case and block Bulgaria from using EU funds to break EU laws.
In December, the European Commission publicly committed to better implementing its nature laws. 
Robbie Blake, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said:
Kresna Gorge is a jewel of European nature, and needlessly destroying it with a motorway would be a crime. In April this year, EC environment chief Karmenu Vella promised to step up implementation of our vital EU nature protection laws, and how he acts on Kresna Gorge will put him to the test. This is a clear-cut case: either he intervenes, or his commitment to putting our nature laws into practice will just be empty words.
A final decision has not yet been made on which route to take, with the results of a new Environmental Impact Assessment expected in the next few months. The local community and the wider Bulgarian public then will be able to express their views on this, and it will have to be approved by the EU Commission. If the Commission or European Court of Justice find that the project has breached EU nature laws, the Bulgarian government risks having to pay back some or all of the EU grant of just over €750 million.
For more information, please contact:
Ivaylo Hlebarov, Za Zemiata/Friends of the Earth Bulgaria: firstname.lastname@example.org,+359 898 252303
Andrey Kovatchev, Balkani Wildlife Society, email@example.com, + 359 887 788218
Anelia Stefanova, programme director at CEE Bankwatch Network: firstname.lastname@example.org, +39 333 809 24 92
Robbie Blake, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe: email@example.com, +32 491 290096
Notes for the editors
 The NGOs party to the complaint are: Friends of the Earth Europe, CEE Bankwatch Network, Za Zemiata/Friends of the Earth Bulgaria, BALKANI Wildlife Society, Green Policy Institute, Centre for Environmental Information and Education, School for Nature Vlahi.
 The E79 Struma motorway is part of the Trans-European Corridor 4 linking Hamburg (Germany) with Sofia (Bulgaria) and Thessaloniki (Greece). Kresna gorge is a Natura 2000 site, protected by the Habitats Directive.
The full complaint is available at https://bankwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/complaint-EC-Kresna-06Jul2017.pdf
A summary of the complaint is available at https://bankwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/complaint-summary-EC-Kresna-06Jul2017.pdf
 Bulgarian Road Infrastructure Agency announcement: “The Proposal of Patproject 2000 Ltd. is Ranked First in the Competition for Elaboration of an Extended Conceptual Design of Struma Motorway in the Krupnik – Kresna Section”, 20.04.2017, http://www.api.bg/index.php/en/prescentar/novini/proposal-patproject-2000-ltd-ranked-first-competition-elaboration-extended-conceptual-design-struma-motorway-krupnik–kresna-sec/
 In 2008, the ‘Appropriate Assessment’ for the Struma Motorway project, endorsed by the European Commission, deemed that any motorway construction in the Gorge and the option to maintain the current road for international traffic (the so-called zero option) is not in compliance with the EU Habitats Directive because of the detrimental and unavoidable impacts on the protected biodiversity. The legally agreed conclusion was to route all motorway traffic outside of the Gorge by means of a bypass or a tunnel.
 The damage that has already occurred comes as a result of increased traffic brought on by construction at both ends of the Gorge, creating a bottleneck. Species in observed decline include land tortoises, Leopard and four-lined snakes, 12 species of bats. Comparative monitoring reports for a 10-year period suggest that some of the species, such as the four-lined snake, could have even possibly extinct from the site. The populations of other small species living along the Gorge and the existing road have experienced decreases between 50 and 93 percent.
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