Call of Scientists 2012
Open letter to minister
We would like to inform you that on behalf of 55 scientists we have turned to the Prime Minister, the Head of Parliamentary Committee and the Minister of the Environment of Slovak Republic with a call to halt the construction activities that show significant impact on nature in national parks until the adoption of zoning in accordance with international standards (attached).
Based on the knowledge gained from national and international research, we have warned the above-mentioned authorities that:
- the current way of developing tourist centres and other facilities in our national parks has led to substantial losses of biological diversity and disruption of natural processes, although the priority under the law should be their conservation
- in many cases the relevant authorities (particularly in environmental affairs and primarily in the process of Environmental Impact Assessment, EIA) fail to act effectively to prevent these losses and disruptions
- such (non-)action leaves an ample room for non-transparent and even corrupt behaviour, which has long been overlooked at the expense of the one of Slovakia's greatest comparative advantages in Europe - its unique natural and landscape heritage in national parks.
Therefore we ask the Slovak government and Parliament to continue taking decisions and executive measures that will effectively tackle these problems. In addition to halting controversial construction activities, we mean particularly improving the legislation in the field of EIA and nature and landscape conservation status of conservation authorities, land management rights, new financing framework for nature conservation). We ask for the adoption of scientific proposals for the zoning of national parks, and encourage their sustainable development by "soft" tourism in order to support entire local and regional communities and not just few major stakeholders.
Dipl. Ing. Jan Topercer
Comenius University, Botanical Garden, Blatnica
PhD Dipl. Ing. Juraj Svajda, PhD
Matej Bel University, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Banska Bystrica
A call to stop the construction activities that show significant impact on nature in national parks until the adoption of zoning in accordance with international standards
During the last years in our national parks many assessments of ski resorts have been carried out according to Act No. 24/2006 on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Most of them lack expertise, material and methodological correctness, and particularly an unbiased assessment of the impacts of proposed activities on the environment. The EIA process in these assessments looks like a trick that produces heaps of paper with many pointless phrases having the sole purpose to allow the proposed activities irrespective of the actual significance of their impact on the environment.
The signatories of this call note that the implementation of the most recent ski projects in the Tatra National Park - TANAP (Strbske Pleso, Tatranska Lomnica, Spalena, Jakubkova luka) caused an irreversible damage of habitats of Community importance with overall societal value estimated at 14.7 million EUR. Their area covers ca 85 ha, of which 16 ha is in the Natura 2000 sites and strict reserves. Therefore rather surprising seem the attitudes of the environmental and conservation authorities under the Ministry of Environment (MoE). In most cases they routinely allow these projects and impose mitigation measures that are virtually impossible to monitor and enforce. Please note that the primary concern of these authorities should be to safeguard the state property and public interest.
It is hard to conceive that even in crisis, when the MoE suffers from lack of funding for conservation, it has forgiven millions EUR of compensation for the damage caused by private investors to public assets (habitats). After the amendment of the Act on nature and landscape conservation in 2010 that apparently intentionally and non-transparently omitted the obligation to adopt restoration measures or to pay the compensation for damage or destruction of habitat up to its societal value, the MoE failed to turn this obligation back to the relevant legal norms.
We note that ten years of discussions and attempts to zone the TANAP have not saved the nature of the park. Habitat destruction continues even in sites of Community importance and other risky projects are under way. Moreover, it seems that studies of EIA in national parks do not meet the requirements for transparency and completeness (aspects of Strategic Environmental Assessment). We therefore urge the Government and the Minister of the Environment to stop any new construction activities in national parks of Slovakia until the zoning process is complete (to introduce the so-called "stop condition", e.g. using paragraph 8 of the Act No. 543/2002 on Nature and Landscape Conservation).
We also ask for the review of relevant decisions and opinions of the environmental authorities and agencies. These bodies are asked to duly oversee the new project implementation and penalize any infringement so as to eventually convince the public that they take the law enforcement in nature conservation seriously. The MoE should be able to make the whole EIA process transparent and to ensure its objectivity and quality. The lasting absence of "zero variants" (no action) or variants favourable for nature in the final statements of EIA is very typical and indicates an enormous corruption during the approval process.
The call to introduce the "stop condition" for the expansion of existing tourist centres has been supported also by experts from the working group for zoning of TANAP, established by the current Minister of the Environment. While preparing the scientific zoning proposal of TANAP, which is already in its final stage, they agreed that the strongest adverse impacts on the nature of Tatra Mts arise from large, poorly evaluated and often short-sighted projects by big developers. These projects do not significantly increase the quality of life in the local communities or adjacent regions. They merely capitalize on inactive state authorities and agencies that ignore the available scientific evidence against such projects.
We recognize that the expansion of ski resorts and other big tourist centres provides opportunities for short-term profit from sport activities. On the other hand, results of national and international scientific studies lead us to note with deep concern that such developments in national parks seriously increase the risk of long-term biodiversity losses and disruption of underlying natural processes, whereas the priority under the law should be their conservation. Besides the irreversible damages to Slovak and European natural heritage, such losses may significantly reduce the long-term benefits from the business and from ecosystem services, including the scenic values.