The quote from a group supporting the development of a museum on a protected coastal ecosystem–“We understand that it’s very easy to raise the populist flag in defence of the environment and that this always manages to attract a good number of supporters,”–says all you need to know to understand how important this issue is. In fact, it is not so easy. It is not easy at all to protect the last remaining unspoiled beaches in the world. We are sure that with a bit of publicity, the right outcome will prevail in this case:
When Ferran Adrià shut the doors of his elBulli restaurant in 2011, he quickly reassured gastronomes that it was not closing for good, just for a revamp. ElBulli would become a cultural foundation , complete with museum and visitor centre called elBulli 1846, all to reopen on an expanded plot in 2015.
Foodies may have been reassured, but not so environmentalists, who are furious that the expanded elBulli will eat up more space on the Cala Montjoi, one of Spain‘s few protected Mediterranean beaches.
Critics say the expansion project will increase elBulli’s footprint by more than 200% – far greater than that allowed by law. More than 71,000 people have signed an online petition urging the chef to build elsewhere. “A natural park is a protected space that belongs to all of us and is a legacy for future generations,” reads the petition. The area, it adds, “does not need tourist attractions”.
Part of the frustration expressed by locals and environmentalists lies in how the expansion is being managed. The Catalan government has introduced a law to declare elBulli 1846 a public interest project, arguing that elBulli is inextricably linked to the Cala Montjoi and that the expansion, as planned, “will not harm the protected area”. The draft law is currently in the public consultation stage until mid-September, after which it will be voted on by the Catalan parliament.
“There are at least five laws that protect the area and would prohibit this project,” said Bàrbara Schmitt whose group, IAEDEN – Save the Empordà,is one of 30 who have spoken out against the planned expansion. “But with a special law that declares this to be of public interest, they’re trying to bypass the protection of the area and allow the project.”
She pointed to the hard-won battle fought by environmentalists to have this dramatic stretch of the Mediterranean, where the last point of the Pyrenees falls into the sea, declared a protected area. Now Adrià’s plans would see an estimated 200,000 people a year traipse through the area, she said. “It’s one of the few stretches of the Catalan coastline that has no development except around existing towns. Which is of greater public interest – the protection of a natural area or this project?”
The group raised their concerns with Ferran Adrià in a meeting in the spring. “We really didn’t come to an understanding,” she said delicately. While Schmitt and her colleagues were invited to work with the group to improve the project, she said she saw little potential for real change. “For example, they asked us ‘how many people do you want to go there every day? If you say 25, then we’ll make it 25,'” she said. “Which is course is nonsense because if you want the project to be of economic interest and you want to build a museum then you need to get more people in there.”
Schmitt was quick to point out that her group was not against the project. “It’s certainly interesting and it would bring a lot of publicity to the area. But we don’t understand why they insist on developing it here.”
The elBulli Foundation did not reply to interview requests, but others in the region have defended the project. El Grupo Impuls per Girona, a group that represents several chambers of commerce in the region, has thrown its full support behind the project. “It’s a project that respects the environment and an opportunity that we can’t miss out on,’ the group said in a statement. “It would be a world leader and bring prestige to the Costa Brava and the surrounding region.”
The group argued that the push by the Catalan government to have the project declared one of public interest means the project will be subject to more checks and balances than most. It’s evidence of the project’s “transparency and willingness to listen to all,” said the group.
“We understand that it’s very easy to raise the populist flag in defence of the environment and that this always manages to attract a good number of supporters,” they added. “But we think in this case … the preservation of nature is guaranteed.”
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