Pezinok loses final bid to halt waste dump

THE REGIONAL Court in Bratislava has ruled against a group of residents in Pezinok, a nearby wine-growing town, who had sued to stop the construction of a waste dump near the town’s historical centre.

THE REGIONAL Court in Bratislava has ruled against a group of residents in Pezinok, a nearby wine-growing town, who had sued to stop the construction of a waste dump near the town’s historical centre.

Judge Monika Valašiková, who presided over the panel that decided the case, said in an oral reading of the ruling that the objections to the dump were meritless.

The ruling enraged Pezinok’s mayor and much of the town, which has been waging protests since February. They have vowed to appeal.

Zuzana Čaputová, a lawyer for Waste Dumps Do Not Belong in Towns (Skládka nepatrí do mesta) civic association, which represented the group of Pezinok residents before the court, told The Slovak Spectator that the court based its ruling on the master plan for the region that includes Pezinok - which mentions the waste dump - rather than the urban master plan for Pezinok, which does not.

According to Čaputová, the court reasoned that in such cases, the regional master plan is supreme.

But Čaputová contends that the court failed to address evidence she presented showing that the Environment Ministry and the Regional Construction Office did not consider the waste dump to be part of the regional master plan.

“So the judge’s claims are absurd,” Čaputová said.

After the ruling was announced, Pezinok Mayor Oliver Solga told journalists: “I will persuade my only child to emigrate from Slovakia.”

But Jaroslav Pavlovič, an activist in Pezinok, said he was not surprised.

“I think this is just more proof of how far the dirt in our society reaches,” he said, as quoted by the Pravda daily.

Čaputová also found fault in the court’s determination that US-based company Westminster Brothers does not own the rights to construct the dump, and therefore had no obligation to honour an order to halt its construction that was issued by the Environment Ministry on November 25.

“But the Environment Inspectorate considered Westminster Brothers to be the owner,” Čaputová explained. “We have proof that the inspectorate negotiated with Westminster Brothers as the dump’s exclusive representatives.”

In fact, even the Environment Ministry, which oversees the inspectorate, recognised Westminster Brothers as the owner until the Regional Court’s ruling, Čaputová said. But the court made no reference to this, she said.

Furthermore, Ján Mann Sr, a member of the board at Ekologická Skládka, told the TA3 TV news channel in February that the company had sold the rights to build the waste dump to Westminster Brothers.

Background to the case

In November 2006, the Regional Construction Office in Pezinok denied Ján Mann Sr’s request for permission to construct a waste dump at the town’s Nová Jama (new ditch), citing the urban master plan from 2002, which didn’t zone any land for dumps.

Mann appealed to the Regional Construction Office, which was headed at that time by his son, Ján Mann Jr, a Smer nominee.

In March 2007, Ján Mann Jr purchased 130,000 square metres at Nová Jama, and then granted his father’s appeal. The activists in Pezinok appealed the decision to the Environment Inspectorate.

But by February 2008, Ján Mann Sr announced that, due to the media attention about the waste dump, Ekologická Skládka had transferred the rights to the dump’s construction to Westminster Brothers.

The announcement was made several days after Prime Minister Robert Fico expressed that the matter was reflecting badly on the Smer party.

“As a result of the misleading and completely false media campaign against us, we are giving up the construction of the waste dump and handing the entire project over to a third party,” he said.

At the same time, Westminster Brothers informed the Environmental Inspectorate that it had concluded a contract with Ekologická Skládka to assume all the rights and duties for constructing the dump, the Sme daily wrote.

So, since February, state authorities began delivering all documents related to the dump to the representatives of Westminster Brothers, Jozef Dučák and Marián Kočner.

Fico also mentioned Westminster Brothers when speaking about the dump.

“The inspectorate ordered the US company to refrain from any activity in connection with the construction of this dump,” he told the Sme daily in February.

On August 18, 2008, the Environment Inspectorate ruled in favour of allowing the dump to be constructed, so the activists from Pezinok took their case to the Regional Court.

On November 25, the activists also staged a protest in front of the Government Office. Environment Minister Ján Chrbet, while rejecting accusations that his ministry did not act quickly and firmly enough, issued an order to halt construction until the Regional Court ruled on the lawsuit. It delivered that order to Westminster Brothers.

But the construction did not stop because, in November, Ekologická Skládka and Westminster Brothers informed the Regional Court that no contract transferring the rights to dump had ever been concluded, and therefore Ekologická Skládka had been the owner the entire time.

This meant that Ekologická Skládka had never received the Environment Ministry’s order to stop constructing the dump pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Ján Mann Sr confirmed to Rádio Expres on December 4 that the company still had not received the order.

But he had told the Pravda daily on December 3 that he did not know anything about the construction.

“I don’t have the slightest idea about it. That’s none of my business,” he said, adding that questions should be directed to Westminster Brothers.

Peter Višváder, the spokesman for the Environment Ministry, told the TA3 news station on December 3 that the Environment Ministry had documents confirming that both Ekologická Skládka and Westminster Brothers were parties to the dispute.

Višváder did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Marián Kočner, a representative for Westminster Brothers, declined to comment, but recently told TA3: “I have never seen any document claiming that Ekologická Skládka handed over the project to Westminster Brothers.”

He added, “This is the stupidity and dullness of some Slovak investigative journalists, who are superficial and do not drill to the core of the issue.”

He alleged that the activists in Pezinok have manipulated the town’s inhabitants into opposing the dump in order to profit by using an investor of their choosing to build the dump.

The waste dump will be completed in a few days, according to media reports.

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