NEWS

Vested interests are even controlling rubble disposal in quarries

For years, a number of stone quarries in Attica have been operating illegally. Legislation supposedly to ensure their «environmental restoration» has given the green light not only to the continuation of illegal operations but a monopoly to exploit a «developing» business activity. The depositing of matter obtained from excavations and demolitions, as well as other kinds of waste, at little cost and with great savings in taxes (25,000-30,000 euros is the daily turnover), but not for the purpose of any real «environmental restoration,» is being permitted with the blessing of the authorities. Instead of being healed, these wounds on the Attic landscape are getting bigger and will continue to do so for years to come, doing away with vegetation, slopes and peaks and turning the mountains into virtual waste dumps. Supposedly for the purpose of solving increased needs for building materials in view of the Olympic Games projects, two major business activities have been set up in Attica’s quarries, both of which are, in fact, illegal and extremely destructive for the region – the unrestricted and uncontrolled excavation of inert matter and the blind dumping of excavated waste. These two activities meet not only the needs of the public works, but other needs that are more permanent and profitable. It suffices to say that half of all inert matter produced at quarries in Eastern Attica is absorbed in illegal construction in the area. The key phrase for both of these activities is the «environmental restoration of quarries» (by Law 2115/1993) which came into force before Greece was awarded the 2004 Olympics in 1993. The illegal quarries were to close and the open wounds on Attica’s mountainsides were to be filled in with excavation rubble and then covered in soil and planted with trees. The quarry owners were to do this using their own environmental studies which were to be submitted to the Athens Organization. So an apparently legal basis was found for the quarry owners to remain on the sites. The «restoration» was supposed to be carried out using material from excavations and demolitions of state and private projects. The supposedly inactive quarries, once approval had been secured for the relevant environmental studies, would process the material into gravel and sand. In fact, these plants are being used to process rocks blasted out of the mountainsides. It is interesting that at many of the supposedly inactive quarries, permits have been given for this purpose without the prior approval of environmental studies. So far so good. The means justifies the end (in this case, the Olympics). But this is not the only issue. An amendment (Article 19 of Law 3190/2003 on «outdoor trade and other provisions») which was passed by Parliament a few months ago and became national law on Oct. 30, 2003, grants an extension of three years for the completion of business plans for the environmental restoration of the quarries. That is, for another three years, and with the blessing of the law, say those in the know, these two activities – the excavation of inert matter and the uncontrolled dumping of rubble – will flourish, as «waste management» is now a burgeoning industry. Under normal conditions, Attica produces 26 million tons of inert matter every year (48.1 percent from illegally operating quarries in Eastern Attica, 44.2 percent from Western Attica and the remaining 7.7 percent from public works excavations). According to the Technical Chamber of Greece, this amount today (2002-2004) is of the order of (or more than) 35 million tons, a 35 percent increase. Illegal excavations are only carried out in Eastern Attica (in all its quarries), since a special zone for quarries has never been set up there as it has in Western Attica. Such a move would have harmed the interests of the those who continue to operate the sites, contravening existing legal provisions. (Many of these are in archaeological sites or forests, border on residential areas or else have gone beyond the geographical limits granted to them by the State.) The State, using various arguments, has been renewing the contracts for years, creating the following oxymoron. In each quarry’s files, decisions to close the quarry exist side by side with extensions to its operation permit, signed by various ministries (Development, Environment and Public Works, Agriculture, Culture) and local government authorities. One of the most scandalous cases regarding the excavation of inert matter is the existence of two quarries at Merenda in the municipality of Markopoulo, where a giant hole in the mountain has almost reached the mountain top. In its bulky file, the mining and industries department of the Eastern Attica Prefecture has collected more than 30 rulings to close the quarry (which is on an archaeological site) and a large number of rulings to grant extensions. The latest extension (signed in Nov. 1999 by the municipality of Markopoulo, the Athens Organization and the Attiki Odos consortium) was given to facilitate the major public works and provided for the quarries to close on Dec. 31, 2003. On Oct. 30, with the new amendment (on quarries in archaeological sites) its closure was postponed once again.