Project for a Huge Incinerator near Pavlikeni Stalls After Civil Protests, but Supreme Court Has the Last Word

SAC to decide whether Petrurgia can build huge waste incinerator near Pavlikeni\


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Today (April 15th at 11 am) is the first hearing of the final stage of the court dispute, the outcome of which is crucial in determining whether a huge incinerator with the capacity to burn the waste produced in all of Bulgaria and even in Europe, will be built near the village of Varbovka in Pavlikeni Municipality.
The project, owned by Rumen Gaitanski “Vulka” (the Wolf), a long-time key player in the waste business, triggered intense civil protests in the municipalities of Pavlikeni and Sevlievo in 2022. The public discontent was motivated both by doubts about the transparency and legality of the procedures of coordination and approval of the proposed facility, and because of concerns about the incinerator’s harmful effect on public health and the environment.
The investment proposal was presented to the public at the end of 2021 with only one month left to submit comments (from 06.12.2021 to 06.01.2022). The project was presented as a stone wool plant with an incinerator as its energy source. The information about the incinerator’s capacity (1,160 tons of RDF fuel per day) was buried among hundreds of pages of documentation.
The proposed huge capacity of the incinerator would de facto turn one of the most fertile agricultural areas of the Danube Plain into the waste incineration hub of Bulgaria.
The case reached the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) after the Sofia Region Administrative Court ruled in favour of Gaitanski’s company. Several lawsuits have been ongoing in relation to the proposed incinerator, and so far, the court has consistently ruled in favour of Petrurgia.
The specific case 9459/2023 of the SAC was initiated by the civic association “You Decide” and the Director of the Regional Inspectorate of Environment and Waters (RIEW) – Veliko Tarnovo, following a decision by the Administrative Court – Sofia Region. According to the legal team of the Anti-Corruption Fund Foundation (ACF), the decision issued by Judge Emil Zhelev, a former employee of the now-defunct Specialized Criminal Court, is formalistic and essentially not based on the law.
The court even added to the procedure by “introducing” an additional, non-statutory “requirement to state a dissenting opinion on the day of the hearing”.
The dispute concerns a 2023 decision of the Director of the RIEW – Veliko Tarnovo to stop the implementation of the investment plan which Petrurgia later challenged before the administrative court. The investor claims that the decision of RIEW – Veliko Tarnovo should have been based on the opinion of an Environmental Expert Council, held in the winter of 2022, which was in favour of the incinerator. However, before RIEW – Veliko Tarnovo issued its decision, a second Environmental Expert Council was held in the spring of 2023 and gave a negative opinion on the project.
According to Lora Georgieva, senior legal expert at ACF, the decision of the Administrative Court – Sofia Region does not take into account the fact that by law the expert council is an auxiliary body to the Regional Inspectorate of Environment and Waters and only the director has the authority to make decisions.
“In addition, in this case, there were two independent grounds for conducting a new expert council. On the one hand, the two council members who had voted “against” filed special opinions within the legal deadline, and on the other — the Regional Health Inspectorate had expressed doubts about the safety of the project due to incomplete documentation submitted by the investor,” Georgieva said.
A curious point in the proceedings before the Administrative Court is that Tsonka Hristova, a former director of the RIEW – Veliko Tarnovo under whose chairmanship the first expert council had been held, appeared as a witness for Gaitanski’s company.
“As a purely legal matter, the admission of testimony about circumstances for which there is uncontradicted documentary evidence is perplexing. Furthermore, such conduct on the part of Ms. Hristova as a former director of the specialized public body called to uphold the public interest in a safe environment and preserved nature raises serious doubts about her integrity,” Georgieva said.
Due to the extreme public importance of the case, the ACF conducted its investigation and found numerous violations and reasons to doubt the impartiality of the institutions involved. We will present them in a series of videos, the first of which is coming later this week.