Kresna Gorge / Struma motorway, Bulgaria
The Struma motorway, part of the Trans European Corridor N4 Sofia-Athens is planned to go directly through the Kresna gorge, a NATURA 2000 site, and the town of Kresna – even though a comprehensive agreement stipulated in 2007 that this route would be avoided.
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Natural beauty and protected species
Located in south-west Bulgaria, the Kresna gorge with its narrow and steep slopes hosts a high number of endemic and rare protected species such as otter, tortoise, the leopard snake and 17 bat species – despite its small territory of 16 000 hectares.
If constructed directly through the gorge, the Struma motorway will cause irreversible destruction to the gorge’s pristine ecosystems and its protected habitats.
Impacts on local agriculture and air quality
Also the town of Kresna, situated at the southern end of the Kresna gorge, will suffer from the construction: The motorway will pass at a distance of 30 metres from outlying homes and the local school.
The people of Kresna would lose their most fertile agriculture lands, their clean air and the possibilities of tourism development in the region.
Diverting the motorway out of the gorge and away from the town will protect the natural environment and will turn the existing road into a tourist route, as opposed to a massive transportation corridor.
The Bulgarian government planned to build the Struma motorway many years ago. The initial route of the motorway was supposed to go directly through the Kresna gorge, a NATURA 2000 site, and the town of Kresna.
In 2002, an alternative routing plan had been designed by independent engineers, passing outside the gorge and avoiding inhabited areas, arable lands, the most precious natural habitats and biological corridors, and the mineral springs in the region.
From 2002 NGOs demanded that this alternative should be included in the Environmental Impact Assessment and evaluated accordingly.
After intervention by the European Commission and the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention, the Bulgarian government initiated a new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in 2006 to ensure that all proposed variants for the motorway were properly studied.
In 2007, as a result of the final EIA, locals, road authorities, non-governmental organisations and relevant ministries agreed on a concrete route for the motorway outside of the Kresna Gorge. The agreed route envisages the construction of tunnels to avoid direct passing through the gorge.
Already in 2010, Bankwatch warned that the most complex motorway section – the tunnel, whose construction was postponed until after 2014 – might be abolished once other sections are completed.
This is exactly what seems to happen now.