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War declared over Attica rubbish dump
by Thrasy Petropoulos 23 Jan 2011
"ENLIST!” urges a poster outside the Keratea town hall.
It hardly seems necessary. The residents of Keratea, some 40km southeast of Athens, need no encouragement to mobilise against plans to build a waste management plant in their area. So much so that the riot police sent to patrol the region last month were barely in position when the first clashes ensued. Petrol bombs and rocks were exchanged with teargas and batons, with injuries on both sides.
That, locals say, will be nothing compared to the trouble predicted if and when work begins on what would be Attica’s second legal landfill.
“[The government] is obliging us - including me personally, at the age of 60 - to become hooligans,” says Vasilis Thivaios, deputy mayor of Lavriotiki, which after the last municipal elections now incorporates Keratea. “I am embarrassed, but the government should be more ashamed. We will take it to the very end. When illegality becomes law we have an obligation to do our duty.”
Yiorgos Bintarchas, the owner of a local surveillance systems company, is even more straight-talking.
“The situation is out of control,” he says. “Already we have had two police stations burnt down in Keratea. Two jeeps and a construction vehicle have also been burnt, and there have been injuries to both demonstrators and riot police - one serious. If they even think of bringing in contractors’ vehicles, the trouble will go to another level altogether. And each party will then have to take responsibility for its actions.”
Tempers flared most recently on the eve of January 16, when the second of two marches on the same day resulted in a standoff between protesters and riot police at a blockade. There were, however, no injuries.
With similar landfill projects outlined for Grammatiko and Fyli, in northern and eastern Attica respectively, Keratea completes the waste management strategy for Athens and its surrounding areas - part of a regional plan first conceived in the mid-1990s. Of these, only the Fyli plant has been built and, according to experts, will as a result follow its predecessor in neighbouring Ano Liosia and fill well before its time.
So pressing is the problem that, with the entirety of Athens’ estimated 2.5 million tonnes of annual waste going to Fyli, the lifespan of the plant is estimated at little over two years.
Unless the plants in Grammatiko and Keratea become operational within that time - or unless the government immediately takes steps to radically increase recycling and composting in order to reduce volume - the country’s waste management system appears destined to collapse.
Already most of the 1,500 landfills around Greece have been closed in order to avoid hefty EU fines, with those still operating needing to incorporate a comprehensive sanitisation and recycling systems into their operation.
Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis pulls no punches when it comes to discussing Keratea.
“It is not possible for the Keratea waste management plant not to be completed,” he said in an interview to Skai radio on January 12. “It is essential for the area and for the whole of Attica, as well as for the environment.”
He added that, until recently, waste from Keratea was being dumped at an illegal landfill. In order to use the Fyli dump, the Keratea municipality would have had to agree to the government’s regional plan for waste, ostensibly agreeing to the sites in Keratea and Grammatiko. The municipality was permitted to start using Fyli earlier this month without further repercussion to avoid the state incurring EU fines.
Ragousis stressed that the 127,000 tonnes of waste earmarked for Keratea annually represents less than seven percent of that produced by Attica.
For their part, the residents of Keratea say that the plant would prove environmentally damaging, chiefly because the area is riddled with disused mine shafts. Leachate, the seepage that runs from rubbish as it decomposes, could, therefore, find its way into the water table. Plans to line the landfill with a watertight membrane cannot, they say, guarantee against leakage.
Similarly, they say the area on which the plant would be built includes the notable archaeological site of Ovriokastro.
Both the environmental and archaeological concerns are being challenged in court.
“We have all agreed to do whatever the courts decide,” Ragousis said, adding that the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, recently ruled against the residents’ appeal on environmental grounds. Construction, he said, would commence shortly.
This has infuriated locals, who maintain that the Council of State has still not ruled on the environmental appeal. Rather, it has merely thrown out a secondary appeal seeking to incorporate into the overall ruling a successful local court (eirinodikeio) challenge that forbids the commencement of work until there is a proper archaeological study.
The Council of State has yet to clarify the matter.
“The interior ministry has announced details to the media and the EU of a [court] ruling that has not yet even been passed,” Thivaios says. “It is unbelievable. And as if that is not enough, they are now using violence through riot police. The matter is now a personal one. It has gone far beyond the issue of a landfill. You cannot impose your will in this manner on an area of 60,000 people.”
He added that the riot police have enclosed an area of 1,000 hectares, far beyond the 54 hectares outlined for the project, preventing farmers from tending to their land.
The municipality, he said, has long suggested an alternative, involving Keratea being responsible for the handling of its own rubbish, or for the project to focus on modern recycling and composting methods of waste management.
“Because we can no longer confront them with words, we will use whatever means necessary,” he said. “The responsibility is with the government, not us.”
The Council of State, according to Thivaios, will rule on the environmental appeal in March.
The alternative solution
ACCORDING to Filippos Kirkitsos, president of the Ecological Recycling Society, the maths speaks for itself. Attica produces some 2.5 million tonnes of waste a year, beyond the amount recycled from the blue-bin programme. All of this currently goes to Fyli, north of Athens, the capital’s only legal waste-treatment plant currently in operation. The proposed plants in Keratea and Grammatiko, in southeastern and northern Attica respectively, will, according to the government, handle a combined 300,000 tonnes a year.
“Either they are trying to fool us and the real amount will be more like a million tonnes a year, or the current two-year life expectancy of Fyli will be two years and five months,” he says.
“Essentially, nothing changes. This is not the solution.”
Far better, Kirkitsos says, would be for the government to tear up its regional plan for waste management and incorporate far more extensive recycling and composting programmes.
“Residential recycling should be extended to include four separate bins [according to material], not just the one in operation now. If we do this, the landfills in Grammatiko and Keratea wouldn’t even be necessary,” he says. “Instead of a waste management plant at each site that would allow for the processing of 150,000 tonnes a year, we are suggesting two composting plants for organic waste of 300,000 tonnes.”
And with recycling sorting centres capable of handling 100,000 tonnes at each site, Grammatiko and Keratea would be, he says, able to handle a total of 800,000 tonnes of “green” waste, reducing the volume considerably.
“It will be better and cheaper,” he says.
A resident’s perspective
‘We’ve been here for three years and one of the reasons we came here is because of the natural beauty and the historical connections of the area - the silver mines of Lavrio, the fact Themistocles was from around here… We walk in the hills here and visit the archaeological site of Ovriokastro quite often.
We had a visitor from England who is a university history student and wanted to see the ancient site while he was here. We were stopped by the MAT (riot police) and prevented from going farther. I came to Greece in 1973, in the last year of the military dictatorship, and I hadn’t heard that kind of reply from a policeman since then. I was shocked. I thought that since 1974 we’ve lived in a democracy.
The MAT’s presence is as a bad as a German occupation and people are not going to tolerate that.
When people get injured and maltreated, then the people will take the law into their own hands. I fear that very soon there will be loss of life on one side or another and the whole thing will escalate.
It is outrageous that the government is trying to act in such a lawless manner. Even if the plant were now constructed, it would become illegal in 2013, according to EU regulations.
The violence concerns me a lot. I’ve done a lot of soul searching concerning the whole thing. I sometimes attend the rallies that occasionally turn violent. I am teacher and am not personally willing to become violent. But I feel that I am being forced into the possibility of committing illegal acts because of the illegal activities of an illegal government.
When there is a breakdown - in my opinion - in the rule of law and when the government is acting illegally - you face the dilemma about whether you are OK in undertakingt illegal activities yourself. I am beginning to think - yes.
That doesn’t mean I am going to start throwing Molotov cocktails. But I do increasingly feel justified in doing that. I have sleepless nights with the whole thing.’
‘I feel insulted by the government saying we do not take care of the environment. Personally, I have photovoltaics, I have wind generator and I compost. We don’t have a DEI [Public Power Corporation] connection.
My rubbish for a week is a little bag. I would like to compare my rubbish with all these ministers’ and that of all the people who want to bring the waste management plant to this area - and see how it compares. If we all went in that direction, there wouldn’t be any need for a landfill in the first place.
There were ancient mines all around here. Thanks to them we won the war against the Persians; the mines provided the silver that made possible for the ships to be built. There are also new mines. The seepage is going to go straight into the mines. The place is dotted with ancient sites.There are ports and there are places where they used to process the silver.
The most ancient theatre in Europe - from the sixth century BC - was found here [pointing to a map], and two kouros statues, here and here. Everywhere you look there is something historical, including buildings by the French mining company.’