The partnership between the Municipality of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, and the City of Auburn, Alabama, began in 1998 and was one of the most successful partnerships under the Bulgarian Technical Twining/Resource Cities Program. The partnership completed a wide range of valuable projects and developed several innovative practices during the previous phases. One of the most notable achievements occurred in the area of solid waste management. At the time the partnership began, the landfill in the municipality of Blagoevgrad was in poor condition, with poor maintenance, and safety and operation problems. With the assistance of the city of Auburn, the municipality of Blagoevgrad was able to reduce the negative environmental impact of the landfill and to extend its lifetime by ten to fifteen years.
In order to capitalize on the best practices developed and adopted during previous phases, the partnership between Blagoevgrad and Auburn was selected to participate in Phase IV of the Bulgaria Resource Cities Program. The Blagoevgrad Landfill Management Project was particularly relevant as a replication activity in view of the fact that the improvement of waste management was a major task that Bulgarian municipalities needed to address as they prepared for accession to the European Union. The municipalities of Radomir and Kjustendil were selected to participate in the landfill project, as both municipalities were interested in improving the operation of their landfills.
The first official exchange of the partnership took place in February 2003, during which a three-person team of experts from Auburn (the director of environmental services, the director of public works, and the director of water and sewer) traveled to Blagoevgrad. An Auburn-Blagoevgrad technical team for project assessment visited the Bulgarian replicant cities of Radomir and Kjustendil, and as a result, two action plans for technical cooperation among the four parties were developed and signed. The action plan for cooperation with Kjustendil focused on the improvement of landfill operations and reconstruction, with the final goal of extending the life of the landfill, while the action plan for cooperation with Radomir allowed the municipality to improve landfill operations and waste collection, and to introduce a source separation pilot program. In addition, a regional seminar for dissemination of Blagoevgrad-Auburn landfill redevelopment practices was conducted for 15 Bulgarian municipalities, and 25 experts were trained in the best practices in solid waste management. Both replicant cities implemented the appropriate action steps in accordance with the timeline of activities in the action plan.
Blagoevgrad and Auburn continued to further expand their cooperation in the environmental area by developing a new action plan to improve the management of wastewater treatment plant sediments. The partners also intended to work toward reshaping the public's attitude toward, and the municipal governments’ approach to, solid waste management, collection, and disposal. To that end, a work group for project implementation was formed, which included representatives of the two Blagoevgrad universities, local environmental NGOs, the Regional Directorate for Environmental and Water Protection, and city administration.