On 25 January 2011, a report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the State Party. The report provides information on the status of tourism developments in the Bansko ski zone as well as other threats, and includes a summary of the State Party response to NGO concerns regarding inappropriate developments within the property that resulted in an infringement procedure initiated by the European Commission, in line with Decision 34 COM 8B.5.
a) Developments in the Bansko tourism zone
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that two construction projects in the Chalin Valog area of the Bansko ski area located in the buffer zone were approved in 2007, namely: i) construction of a four-seat ski lift; and ii) construction of an engineering facility (tunnel) passing through the ski run at an elevation of 1185 to 1190 m. NGO concerns related to these projects resulted in the initiation of an infringement procedure by the European Commission. The State Party reports that the construction of the ski lift replaces an existing ski drag, and falls within the provisions of the Territorial Arrangement Plan (TAP). The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall that the 2004 management plan, which remains in effect until August 2014, prohibits the construction of new ski facilities in the national park, except those approved under the 2000 TAP for the Bansko ski zone. However, they note that the replacement of a ski drag with a four-seat ski lift significantly increases the capacity of the existing facility, which is likely to result in increased tourism pressure and impact the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV).
The State Party notes that in 2010 two additional development proposals were approved in the Bansko ski area located within the property’s buffer zone, namely: i) the replacement of an existing four-seat ski lift with a six-seat ski lift from Banderishka poljana to Kolarski pat; and ii) the replacement of two existing ski drags with a four-seat lift at Platoto. The World Heritage Centre requested additional information on these new developments in a letter dated 28 March 2011. In its response dated 11 April 2011, the State Party notes that the existing ski drags at Platoto and the replacement of the Banderishka polyana – Kolarski pat ski lift were foreseen in the TAP, is motivated by safety concerns, and were therefore granted permission. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note the approval of these developments and that the proposals are not a like-for-like replacement of the lifts purely for safety reasons, but include an upgrade in their capacity that is likely to exacerbate tourism pressures and impact the OUV of the property. They also note that, from the available documentation, it is unclear whether the capacity upgrades of ski lifts approved in 2010 are provided for in the TAP, and that those could be considered as further developments of ski facilities within the property’s buffer zone. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the forthcoming mission to the property should examine this issue and make a recommendation on whether the property meets the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger, in line with Committee Decision 34 COM 7B.19 and Paragraph 180(b)(ii) of the Operational Guidelines.
b) Ecologically sustainable tourism
In 2010, the State Party received financial support from the UNESCO Participatory Programme for the development of a strategy for sustainable tourism. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note these positive developments and encourage the State Party to continue to explore and enhance options for ecologically sustainable tourism.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that a maximum of 7800 skiers are permitted in the Bansko ski zone under the management plan, while the specialized Bulgarian media and NGO reports provide information that Bansko’s tourism accommodation capacity is between 12,000 and 20,000 beds, which appears to be significantly higher than the capacity of ski facilities. This situation is reported to fuel the development of ski lifts and ski runs in Bansko ski zone. They have also received information, from the Bulgarian media and NGOs, that in February 2011, Bulgarian companies and the municipalities of Bansko and Razlog re-announced plans for large-scale developments of ski facilities and the need for amendments in the management plan to allow new constructions within the property. In its letter dated 11 April 2011, the State Party notes that no additional development projects have been submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Water. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall that the Committee in Decision 34 COM 7B.19urged the State Party to ensure that the new management plan does not allow further ski development or construction of other facilities within the property and its buffer zone, nor extension of the tourism zone into the property.
c) Adequacy of staff and financial resources
The State Party report provides a summary of the property’s budget between 2004 – 2010. From this summary it is clear that the financial resources provided by the state budget remain fairly constant. However, the level of funding for management and restoration activities in the property fluctuates considerably and was significantly reduced in 2010. This reduction is attributed to the current economical crisis and associated tightened financial policies. In its report, the State Party notes that it is a potential beneficiary of several EU programmes, and that it envisages applying for funds from these sources. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the State Party be encouraged to restore management funding to 2009 levels.
d) Other conservation issues
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note with satisfaction the State Party’s report that in 2010 there were few reported cases of illegal logging, poaching and use of non-timber natural resources, and that these activities appear to be well controlled.
With regard to off-piste skiing and the use of snow mobiles and All Terrain Vehicles (AVTs) off designated tracks, the State Party reports a growing number of violations, which it is addressing by awareness raising campaigns, and by increasing patrols in winter time. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the State Party should be requested to ensure that off-piste skiing and the use of snow mobiles and ATVs is strictly controlled to minimize the impacts of these activities on the property’s OUV.
IUCN notes that it has received reports that the operator of Bansko ski zone uses chemicals in the production of artificial snow, which is in violation of the management plan for Pirin National Park, which includes the Bansko ski zone. This has apparently resulted in nitrogen and nitrate levels which significantly exceed the approved standards. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN wish the draw the Committee’s attention on the need to immediately halt the use of chemicals.