Two environmental associations are attacking the administrative court against the order of the regional prefect exempting the “MTB stadium” project carried out by the community of municipalities of the Catalan Pyrenees from an environmental impact study. In order, in particular, to accommodate athletes training for the Paris-2024 Olympic Games, the intercommunality wishes to develop cycle paths on a fenced plot of 15.6 hectares above the Lycée Coubertin, in a forest making the object of many protections.
At high speed. The Olympic cross-country mountain bike circuit project between the Airelles ski resort and the Font-Romeu high school is fueled. Project owner, the community of municipalities of the Catalan Pyrenees, which submitted its application for authorization to the prefecture on March 7, 2022, intends to launch the site from this Thursday, September 15.
Clearly, it is a question of enclosing a plot of forest of 15.6 hectares and of developing four mountain bike trails 1.5 to 4 meters wide over 6.8 linear km (in loops). To do this, soil stripping work, rock reprofiling and above all the felling of several trees are planned (“a maximum of forty”, according to the president of the community of communes, Pierre Bataille). The cost of the project is estimated at 300,000 euros, 80% of which comes from subsidies (National Sports Agency, Region, etc.). “In addition to welcoming athletes preparing for the 2024 Olympic Games, the circuit can also be used by the general public or the new mountain biking sports section of Lycée Coubertin”emphasizes Pierre Bataille.
Forty trees threatened with felling
Still, the project is not unanimous. Especially since the regional prefect finally decided to exempt him from the impact study. The Federation for the environment and natural spaces of the Pyrénées-Orientales (Frene) and the association Living well in the Catalan Pyrenees have filed an appeal against this derogation. And for good reason: the targeted sector is included in the natural area of faunistic and floristic ecological interest (Znieff) of the “Serrat des loups”, the territory of the regional natural park of the Catalan Pyrenees, the Natura 2000 site Capcir-Carlit-Campcardos, as well as in several national action plans for the preservation of species (bearded vulture, among others).
This did not prevent the regional prefect from considering “that in view of the elements provided by the petitioner (…), the project should not cause significant impacts on the environment”. The president of Bien Vivre in the Catalan Pyrenees, Thomas Figarol, does not share this point of view: “It will inevitably be necessary to do earthworks to develop the tracks. Moreover, they claim that they will only cut down forty trees at most. But when you see the ground, it is a little difficult to understand how they can develop four tracks by cutting so few trees.”
Be that as it may, according to Frene and Bien vivre en Pyrénées Catalanes, for a construction site of such an area, the Environmental Code prescribes a systematic environmental assessment: “In its request for a case-by-case examination, the community of municipalities of the Catalan Pyrenees indicates that the overall area of the operation is 15.6 ha (…). The environmental assessment is therefore essential for this work which is established in the protected forest of Font-Romeu on a ground of plate higher than 10 ha.
For his part, Pierre Bataille ensures that it is only necessary to take into account the area actually developed. Clearly: only the surface of the tracks themselves (2.72 hectares) and not that of the entire fenced area. This is the crux of the disagreement on which the administrative tribunal is invited to rule.
The community of municipalities plans to open the circuit in the spring of 2023.
“Cameras to spot black woodpecker nests”
Concerning the environmental aspect, Pierre Bataille recalls that the National Forestry Office (ONF) is a partner in the project and that the regional natural park, “guarantor of the Natura 2000 site”was consulted prior to the filing of the development permit. “He gave us recommendations that we will follow to the letter, he assures. For example, we must carefully check, using inspection cameras, that there are no nests of black woodpeckers in the trees that will have to be felled. An environmentalist will be present throughout the work. Moreover, if it starts this Thursday, it is because we have to operate during the short period of time during which the black peak is not present (until the end of October/beginning of November). Otherwise, we would lose a year and we wouldn’t be able to open before the 2024 Olympics.”