Tourist mooring in Suhi Potok – landscaping or legalization of illegal coastal land extension?

Environmental regulations are clear. Environmental impact assessment procedures shall be carried out in order to ensure the precautionary principle at an early stage of the planning of the procedure, all in order to minimise the impact of the intervention and achieve the greatest possible preservation of environmental quality. The precautionary principle, one of the fundamental and most important principles of environmental law, gains its legal shape and strength precisely through environmental impact assessment procedures. This is why environmental impact assessment procedures are carried out in the preparation of the procedure and not upon its completion.

When it comes to extending the seashore, if the coast is planning to be extended in the length of 50 m and above, it is necessary to carry out the prescribed environmental procedures in accordance with the Regulation on Environmental Impact Assessment (Narodne novine 61/14, 3/17, herewards: EIA Regulation). As the name of the Regulation suggests – the procedures are carried out in order to assess the possible environmental impacts of the planned intervention, based on the EIA reports.. Only after that it is possible to obtain other permits and start with the realization of the project.

Unfortunately, the reality is often completely different. We would say upside down. Now, by standard, we notice that interventions like beachfilling or beach extension often begin to be carried out illegally, the inspection determines that there are no permits – suspends the procedure and orders an EIA procedure to be conducted as required by the EIA Regulation. Then the investor subsequently carries out environmental procedures for the intervention that has already been partially or fully executed.

Exactly the same happened in Dugi Rat, in the area of Suhi Potok settlement Jesenice. According to the revolting locals of Suhi Potok, the perpetrators have been illegally extending maritime domain for years to build a mooring for themselves, and now they plan to legalize it.

A local who was willing to talk to us complained that construction was particularly active during the lockdown: “First they slowly extended part of the coast in Suhi Potok for their own boats. The materials they used for extension were diverse, e.g. earth, rubble, stones. But in early 2020, due to the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic , they commenced whit the final beach extension which included construction of the entire port. Excavators worked for four months, literally all day and night without a single permit.”

Asked if locals had reported the case to inspections, he argued: “During the lockdown period, inspections did not conduct on-site inspections, and the municipal police set up concrete ramps after a few months so that the port could not be approached, but the perpetrators were still building. Since June 2020, they have brought their tourist boats and prepared for the season. After that, inspections reacted, but late because the maritime domain hadalready been usurped for their own interests and the environmental damage is irreparable.”

After the Association Sunce asked the Ministry of the Sea, Transport and Infrastructure for information on the inspection supervision carried out at the site, the Ministry refused to provide us with information during the criminal proceedings against the perpetrators. The procedure, which, we note, can be subsumed under the legal description of a misdemeanor act – the disposal of building materials and waste in the sea and on the coast, as well as the criminal offence – environmental pollution, is inadmissible under special regulations and as such should not be subject to decision-making in proceedings before the ministry.

It is important to be reminded anew of the precautionary principle, which dictates that all preventive environmental measures must be applied for the purpose of avoiding risks and damage to the environment, when planning and performing the procedure. When it comes tobeach extension, environmental measures would mean, for example, that the material used while carrying out an intervention is specified so that the environmental impact is reduced to a minimum or the intervention is positioned in such a way that it is as sustainable as possible, that is, that sea habitats or species are not degraded. As a last resort, the competent ministry may assess that it is necessary to examine the risks of the intervention in more detail and to that end instruct the holder of the procedure to conduct the EIA procedure and the preparation of a much more demanding environmental impact study.

Given that the operation in Suhi Potok has already been partially carried out, we are now wondering how the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development plans to decide on the environmental impact of the already built breakwater? While there is no data on the reference (initial) stateof the communities of life present in the marine environment, there is no place for decision-making and discussion on possible impacts on them.

For this reason, the legal provisions clearly stipulate that “the assessment of the environmental impact of the intervention must ensure that the precautionary principle is achieved at an early stage of the planning of the intervention…” (Article 76.3 Environmental Protection Act Narodne novine 80/13, 153/13, 78/15, 12/18, 118/18). It is indisputable that the planning phase of the procedure by no means implies a half-performed intervention.

After all the years of beach extansion with all kinds of materials – rubble, earth, building waste, environmental degradation and coastal hijacking, it is very likely that the perpetrators were ordered by the inspection to initiate EIA procedures in order to comply with the applicable regulations. However, the use of such inspection authorisations is extremely dangerous in such cases where those with the idea of assessing which part of the coast they like or is suitable for their tourist activities, to build themselves a beach/breakwater/mooring and whatever they need, and then possibly, if caught, produce aReport/Study that,  of course, proves that there are no harmful environmental impacts, which is followed by concessions, building permits, etc. The conclusion is indicative – if you are creative enough and have a cash base, you can start designing and extending the coast in front of your house today.

Contrary to these actions, the Association Sunce welcomes positive inspection solutions when the rehabilitation of the shore area was ordered, i.e. the restoration of the site to its original state and imposed sanctions for environmental pollution as was the case in Seget Vranjica and on the beach Osejava in Makarska (more information in the article – Beach fill and practices of the authorities). Restauration of environment to its original state is the only measure that can ensure that such self-owned behaviours with the common good are stopped and accordingly should prevail as the imperative of inspection solutions.

By approving this procedure, the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development would contribute to the practice of ignoring and violating regulations both by this perpetrator and by any subsequent one who wishes to arrange the coast at his own discretion, and then subsequently legalize his actions. Environmental regulations are as clear as environmental failures. We must not provide suitable conditions for those who do not care about the environment, and then marvel at the polluted sea, the devastation of the coast or the extinction of species and habitats. We have already warned many times that coastal land extension and beach nourishment made with inappropriate materials and carried out on the basis of unprofessional data can cause long-term damage to marine wildlife. To this end, the Sunce Association is currently implementing the SEAS project (Save the Ecosystems of the Adriatic Sea with Active Participation) which aims to encourage as much expertise and active public participation as possible in planning interventions on the sea and coast.

The reason for such a long story lies not only in the above mentioned intervention and a small part of the sea and the coast that was rudely hijacked by other people as well as the entire living sea world that inhabited it, but from the concern that we ourselves as an association have caused by the repetitive scenarios and their devastating cumulative consequences on the environment and, as the locals say “in the hope that justice will prevail and that the usurped terrain will be restaurated,  and contractors sanctioned according to the laws of the Republic of Croatia”.

The SEAS project is implemented with financial support from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway within the Framework of the European Economic Area and Norwegian Grants, and our project partners are also WWF Adria, The Green Istria Association, Urbanex Ltd. and the University of South-Eastern Norway (USN).

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