This unique natural site seems to be doomed due to a decision by the Supreme Administrative Court. As a result of this judicial precedent 250 more protected natural territories in the whole country are also at risk.
The protected area “Kamchiiski Piasatsi” /”Kamchiya’s Sands”/ includes the biggest Black Sea sand beach in Bulgaria. This area preserves a unique combination of dunes and dense forests. The significance of “Kamchiiski Piasatsi” has been acknowledged both through its status of a protected area as well as its inclusion, together with “Kamchiya” Reserve, in the European Environmental Network “Natura 2000” and the proposal for it to be declared a site under the protection of the Ramsar Convention for conservation of wetlands with international importance.
Certain actions of the last two governments, the already mentioned decision by the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) and investments interests will practically destroy this unique natural site by allowing for exclusion, transformation, substitution and sale of lands within the limits of the protected area to private investors. Decision # 7095 of SAC from 27 June 2006 declares void the order for announcing the establishment of a Protected Area "Kamchiiski Piasatsi" and via this precedent puts in danger the status of 250 more protected natural territories in the whole country.
Detailed presentation of the case
With Decision #568 from 17 June 2005 of the previous government, from the total area of coastal beaches in Bulgaria there were excluded 150 hectares of the beach strip in Dolni Chiflik Municipality as well as the lands belonging to the villages of Shkorpilovtsi and Dolni Chiflik. Some of this territory is part of the area included in the Protected Area "Kamchiiski Piasatsi”. With the same decision the Council of Ministers transformed the ownership of these lands from an exclusively state property to a private state property, in violation of the Law on Protected Areas and the Constitution of Republic of Bulgaria, which promulgate the public character of state ownership in the coastal beach strip and in the protected territories (Article10 of the Law on Protected Areas and Article 7 of the Law on State Ownership). In this manner, the 150 hectares in question were transformed from coastal sands into agricultural land (Category “X” pasture) and forest cultures.
On 10 March 2006, in violation of the Law on Protected Areas, 40.7 hectares of the above mentioned “pastures” (including the lands that were within the limits of Protected Area "Kamchiiski Piasatsi”) were substituted by the Minister of agriculture and forestry with 31 properties of agricultural land in the municipalities of Vidin, Bregovo and Makresh, with a total area of 65 hectares. The 40 hectares on the front line of the beach in Shkorpilovtsi were evaluated at the price of 55 673 BGL, while the fields in Vidin region – at the price of 415 340 BGL. The new owner of the protected territory - "Rees International" Ltd., condescended not to receive compensation payment for the swap.
After "Rees International" Ltd. acquired ownership on the land it disputed in front of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) the order for the establishment of Protected Area "Kamchiiski Piasatsi" with the argument that “boundaries of the site have not been clearly delineated". Defendants in this court case were the Ministry of the Environment and Waters and the Council of Ministers.
With Decision # 7095 of 27 June 2006 the three members of SAC lead by the member of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) Andrei Ikonomov decided that the order for establishment of a Protected Area "Kamchiiski Piasatsi" was void on the grounds of purely formal arguments, i.e., that in 1980 this order was signed by the Chairman of the then Committee for Protection of the Environment (CPE) and not by the Minister of Forests and Forest Resources. Also:
„ ...and Article 22 of the same law (Law on Protection of Nature) and in the same version – “Natural sites are declared protected with an order of the Minister of Forests and Forest Industry after obtaining the agreement of relevant institutions-stakeholders…”. The text of Article 22 of the Law on Protection of Nature (LPN) had not been changed since this law was promulgated (in State Gazette # 47/1967) until the annulment of the text by the Law for Amendment and Addition of the Law on Protection of Nature promulgated in State Gazette # 133/1998. In other words, at the moment of promulgation of the disputed order the Minister of Forests and Forest Industry and not the Chairman of the Committee for Protection of the Environment was the institutional body authorized to declare a certain natural site “protected area” in compliance with LPN.
In fact, the signature powers of the Chairman of the Committee for Protection of the Environment were postulated in the Regulations for application of the Law on Protection of Nature (LPN) while the signature of the minister himself was mandatory acc. to the law. In case of controversy the law was the highest authority. The Supreme Administrative Court claims that the Law on Protection of Nature has not been amended after the Regulations for its application were promulgated. However, the text of Article 22 was changed three times prior to the annulment of the Law. At the time the order for the establishment of the Protected Area “Kamchiiski Piasatsi” was promulgated the competent authority was exactly the Chairman of the Committee for Protection of the Environment (acc. to Decree # 2051/1977 of the State Council of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria for amendment of the Law on Protection of Nature and other laws, published in State Gazette # 3 of 1977). It is evident that the judges of the Supreme Administrative Court do not possess an efficient legal information system or cannot read the laws. There could also be a different and very trivial reason...
The arguments put forth by the court endanger the network of protected natural territories in Bulgaria because in the period 1978 – 1998 the orders for the establishment of more than 250 more protected natural territories were issued following the same procedure. Thus, any investor may decide to dispute in front of the court the respective order for establishment of a protected natural territory he/she is interested in and, subsequently, win the case on the same grounds as stated above. At the same time, the number of protected territories in Bulgaria is very small – they include less than 5% of the total area of our country. As a comparison, the average percentage for Europe is 10 – 15%. There are neglected not only decades of hard work of forestry specialists, biologists, environmentalists and nature-lovers but public interests as a whole as there are created conditions for destruction of our most precious national treasure.
Currently, the Ministry of Environment and Waters appeals the decision in front of a five-member Supreme Administrative Court. On 19 October 2006 the Chairman of the Court admitted that, most probably, the previous members of SAC had been misled by the legal information system.