Since 1997 NGOs under the Save Kresna Coalition have been campaigning against the construction of the motorway through the Kresna gorge. The main demand of the campaign is a development of acceptable alternative routes outside the CORINE and NATURA 2000 site. NGOs have also called for this part of the motorway to be a priority for design and construction – as it is the most complicated section. The campaign has included activities for raising awareness on all levels – from local community to the Bulgarian government, searching for the support of the European Commission, the European Parliament, local communities and international NGOs. The NGO coalition also developed and proposed alternative routings for the motorway as early as 2002.
In 2007, after 10 years of campaigning local people, road authorities, NGOs, representative of European Commission and relevant ministries agreed on a concrete route for the motorway outside of the Kresna Gorge. This agreement was the result of the final EIA. The EIA was complemented, agreed by all stakeholders and approved by the Minister of Environment and Waters. The agreed route envisages the construction of tunnels to avoid direct passing trough the gorge. At that time to ensure that Struma motorway and Kresna section in particular are developed according to the EIA, and to timely discuss and resolve any issues NGOs demanded a Steering committee to be established. The establishment of the Committee was publicly signed only in July 2011, but became operational as late as April 2013.
The Steering Committee was neither the only nor the most important delay so far. LOT 3 (including Kresna) of the Struma motorway was scheduled for preparation in 2009 and an indicative start for construction was planned for 2009/2010. Since 2009 Bulgarian authorities have been constantly postponing the design and construction of the tunnel. They reallocated EU funds to Trakia motorway and shifted Struma Lot 3.2 (Kresna) for 2014-2020 period. Research of the tunnel was started as late as 2011 and as of 2016 no detailed design of the tunnel is publicly available. Project developments from 2013 on clearly show that Bulgarian authorities have no intention to respect the decisions about the tunnel.
In 2014-2015 Bulgarian authorities under the pressure of construction companies declared the tunnel unfeasible and reintroduced under the guise of “new” two motorway alternatives passing again right through the gorge. These alternatives are building on the existing road despite such routings been officially rejected by the Environmental Impact and Appropriate Assessment procedures in 2007/2008.
Currently NGOs are once again trying to convince Bulgarian authorities and European Commission that respecting the environmental law has no alternative and the Struma motorway should pass outside the Kresna gorge.
13 years and counting – Save the Kresna Gorge
A slideshow documenting 13 years of campaigning to save the Kresna gorge in Bulgaria – a NATURA 2000 site and home to an extraordinarily high number of endemic and rare protected species.