Since 1983 Pirin National Park (NP) is a mountain territory under the highest nature protection standards according to Bulgarian law. The NP is rich in unique natural resources including 120-year-old pine woods. Since 2000 a local development plan (DP) for the town of Bankso - a gateway to the Pirin NP includes huge expansion of the existing ski zone (ski runs and infrastructure).
In 2001, after a positive EIA decision by the Environment Ministry. a concession contract for the enlargement of the ski zone is signed with Ulen AD guaranteeing the right to develop and use a ski zone on 99,5 ha exclusively public land within Pirin National Park.
Since the establishment of the Bansko Ski Zone 2001, nature conservationists have been trying to draw the attention of four consecutive governments to the issues with the management of Pirin National Park, as well as the numerous law infringements in relation to the development of the ski zone which are gradually leading to the destruction of the Park. It has become clear that many of the ski runs are wider than originally permitted, that the number and capacity of lifts is constantly increasing.
In 2004 the Government approved a Pirin National Park Development Plan (NPDP), which is required for each protected territory. The plans have a lifetime of 10 years. The Pirin NPDP states that the Bansko Ski Zone cannot be expanded more than the territory stated in the 2001 concession contract. As this relates to a territory which is publically owned and under exclusive protection, the NPDP is de facto the law in Pirin.
In 2005 the Municipality of Bansko approved a plan change of the Bansko DP, which was not in accordance with the Pirin NPDP and is therefore unlawful. Despite this, the plan change was passed by the RIEW Blagoevgrad Director. This is how with the blessing of the local municipal and government bodies, Ulen AD builds new runs and infrastructure thus infringing the Ministry approved documents the Parks DP and the concession contract.
In 2007 Bulgaria joined the EU. Pirin National Park became part of Natura 2000 Europes ecological network.
In 2009 a satellite image analysis indicates that twice as much forest has been cleared for the development of the Bansko Ski Zone and that the ski zone area itself is twice as large as that approved under the concession contract. The NGO and citizens coalition For the Nature sends a request to the MfEW for an official inquiry into this.
Almost two years later, after a number of letters with questions from citizens and following a government committee meeting, the Minister for Ecology Nona Karadjova admits publically that Ulen AD is using (i.e. has cleared and taken away from protected territories) some 65 ha additional land than what was allowed under the concession for the Bansko Ski Zone. This means that some 40% of the Bansko Ski Zone are practically unlawful.
According to Nona Karadjova, Ulen AD has permission for all lifts and installations, thus the state plans to change the Concessions Act, in order to be able to accommodate the additional 65 ha. These ministerial statements are refuted in a legal appraisal of all lifts and installations within Bansko Ski zone.
A coalition of environmental NGOs For the Nature expressed strong disagreement with the Governments idea of legalising the unlawful areas of the Bansko Ski Zone. Such a Government decision aids the destruction of Bulgarias protected territories and demonstrates that some people are always above the law irrespective of who is in power. The coalition For the Nature points out to the Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and the Environment and Water Minister Nona Karadjova that all Bansko Ski Zone runs and infrastructure within Pirin National Park, which have been built outside the territory approved under the Ulen AD concession, are practically state property.
As a protected territory of such standing, Pirin National Park is exclusively state property, i.e. according to the Constitution, all land and forests in it are property of the Bulgarian people.
The Pirin National Park concession contract allows Ulen AD as a concessioner to use state property (land, forests and infrastructure) in exchange for a fee for a given period of time.
All ski runs and lifts which have been built outside the concession area, even if they are subject to ecological assessments and building permits, are practically built on state land, without the concessioner having a right to do so. Under property law, where there is no building permission or concession, all buildings and infrastructure automatically become the property of the landowner the state. Since 2001 Ulen AD has been using 65 ha of state land, forests and infrastructure outside the concession area illegally and should therefore pay due compensation into the state budget.