Islanders angry over waste mismanagement as toxic smoke descends on town

The ineffective management of a garbage dump and doubts about the siting of a new landfill unit has led to a dispute between residents of the Cycladic island of Naxos and their mayor. The problem on Naxos is a fair indication of the summary approach to garbage disposal in general on Greece’s islands. Recently, Naxos islanders leveled accusations against the island’s mayor regarding what they say is a lack of transparency with regard to the way the new waste management (XYTA) plant’s site was chosen. A group of residents, municipal councilors and members of environmental groups approached Kathimerini after Mayor Vassilis Kokkotas insisted on siting the new 15-hectare XYTA plant at Aghios Fokas, in the area of Melanes. Kokkotas told Kathimerini he was no longer involved in the choice of the site, since the regional government is undertaking a study on it, but locals find it hard to believe that there is not more to his claims than meets the eye. They say that for some years now, Kokkotas has been pushing for Aghios Fokas, even though the area is clearly unsuitable. According to civil engineer Lefteris Verykokos, member of the Naxos Environmental Movement, and the group’s president, agronomist Nikos Nikolakis, the site is surrounded by cultivated land and includes an historical chapel as well as 64 wells and 15 valuable natural springs, apart from being quite close to human settlements. It is also at the highest point on the island, and is frequently swept by high winds that would scatter garbage far and wide. The mayor denied choosing the site himself, claiming that the proposal came from a municipal committee, although as the residents say, it was the majority on the municipal council, and by extension the mayor himself, who was responsible for setting up the committee in the first place. They also point out that the constituent members of the committee were changed two or three times before it arrived at a unanimous decision on the particular site, according to former committee members. According to the opposition members of the municipal council, such as Evangelia Touloupi, the mayor ordered a topographical study of the site without the agreement of the municipal council and despite the opposition. Now he is asking the municipality for money to pay for the study, even though the other members were not consulted. In May 2001, the South Aegean regional body commissioned an Athens company to do a study on potential XYTA sites in the Cyclades; the final decision will be up to them. Chemical engineer Thanasis Karavias said the only hope now is that any decision taken will be made with the participation of the islanders themselves, who will be given the opportunity to express their views and share them with the Athenian surveyors. The site of the new plant is not the only problem, however. Until the XYTAs are built, Naxos is served by a garbage dump that constitutes a scandalous infringement of the specifications set by the European Union, let alone common sense. Ever since the 1970s, the island’s garbage has been collected at a site close to the sea right next to an abbatoir. From time to time fires break out, started either by accident or by the municipality itself in order to reduce the volume. The black, toxic smoke blows over the nearby main town on the island, Hora. Work ceased at the abattoir a short while ago to avoid the hazards in the local environment, and was moved a few meters away, but still within range of the fumes. The authorities don’t hesitate to close city streets when visiting dignitaries come to town, or for roadworks, student demonstrations, or street markets. I doubt if they’ll relax during a once-in-a-lifetime event.

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