The motorway project and the Kresna gorge: key facts

Part of the magnificent Bulgarian and European biodiversity will be lost forever if Struma motorway is built through the Kresna gorge in Southwest Bulgaria. If allowed the construction through the Gorge will simply destroy part of the steep slopes and damage the habitats of unique species. The Kresna gorge is a natural heritage of European importance as well as being an area where local people have the potential to develop tourism and sustainable agriculture. Struma motorway is part of Corridor No. 4 linking Dresden, Budapest, Sofia and Istanbul with an additional Sofia-Thessaloniki link. The project has been on the agenda since 1998.

During the years any construction of a motorway through the gorge has been assessed as unacceptable.

In 2001 the Environmental Commissioner Margot Wallström pointed the need for development of an alternatives that would prevent the negative impacts on the Kresna gorge as a future NATURA 2000 site and comply with the requirements of the Habitat and Birds directives. The Bern Convention in 2002, based on on-spot appraisal concluded that:

„The passage of a road in the gorge (alternatives zero, red and green), obligatorily involving irreversible impacts of great influence in a single site of recognized importance and without possible measures of compensation, is thus unacceptable“.

Bern Convention on spot report, 2002

Numeours different routes were developed since and again assessed in 2008 during an Environmental Impact and Appropriate Assessment procedures. In the Ministry of Environment decision one reads:

„Any motorway construction in the gorge and the option to maintain the current road for international traffic (the so called zero option) was deemed not in compliance with the EU Habitats Directive because of the detrimental impacts on the protected biodiversity and habitats that could not be mitigated“.

2008 EIA/ AA decision

In 2008 a favourable solution for the construction of Struma motorway was found for the Kresna gorge section (Lot 3.2). It was agreed during the Environmental Impact and Appropriate Assessment (EIA/AA) procedures in 2008 that a 13-km tunnel is considered to be the only feasible option from nine assessed route-variants. This is a result of a strong and united campaign to save the Kresna gorge. It involved years of protests, petitions, correspondence with Bulgarian and European authorities. Several missions of Members of the European Parliament, the Bern convention and international journalists were conducted during the yeats. The solution poposed during consultations with the local people is inline with the European and Bulgarian environmental legislation.

The new conflict:

As early as 2009 Bulgarian authorities were continuously working against the approved route – the long tunnel. Firstly by postponing the construction of the whole Lot 3 (62 km) for the period 2014-2020, and diverting valuable funds away from research and desing of the tunnel. The postponed preparations lead the European Commission to approve in 2013 funding only for the construction of Lots 1, 2 and 4 of the Struma Motorway – the sections north and south of the gorge – and a technical preparation of Lot 3. The actual construction of the tunnel was postponed for the 2014 – 2020 financial period.

Today when the three other sections of Struma motorway are already complete, the Bulgarian authorities along with construction companies have the intention to build the motorway right through the gorge.

Oddly the government spent 3 years and EUR 4 million EU technical assistance grant aimed for tunnel design for the “development” of the arguments against the tunnel. The EU funds were used for a geological study, which, based on questionable assumptions, recommends an “alternative” option passing through the gorge. Despite previous assesments contesting the environmental non-feasibility of such a route for the motorway construction.