Rafina environment woes

A stream of unique environmental interest, which is already overburdened by having drained water from half of Attica in recent years, has been subject to dangerous widening and diversion, without any plan, environmental study or permit, instead of getting protection and reinforcement to enhance capacity. Spata Municipality has widened and diverted Megalo Rema in Rafina in such a way as to «downgrade the environment,» according to the Eastern Attica Prefecture’s environment department. Besides, experience has shown that whenever the state or private individuals intervene in nature without proper planning and concern for the environment, they cause nothing but trouble. The streams of eastern Attica are in a critical state due to the diversion of water from other streams in Attica (such as the Podoniftis), as well as the impact of Attiki Odos, the huge airport and the rampant spread of asphalt, which have cut off former outlets for water. Megalo Rema receives larger amounts of water than it can carry. Areas that had never been flooded before are now inundated regularly. Agricultural land is deteriorating and crops are spoiled. Rather than tackling the problem, municipal authorities have made it worse. Eleven people who own property in the area have sued the mayor and deputy mayor of Spata, complaining that on August 22, municipal contractors altered the river bed at Skimthi, digging «a trench 2 meters wide, 2 meters deep and 1,500 meters long.» Excavator The municipality had sent a excavator to make an illegal, dangerous diversion of the stream. On August 25, say the plaintiffs, «a team of workers diverted the water from the existing old streambed into the trench that had been dug which crosses our property. The passage of the water washed away olive trees and a large number of vines.» The Eastern Attica Prefecture’s environment department investigated and reported: «After a complaint by [prefectural adviser] Christiana Frangou, an on-site inspection was conducted and the following was observed: extensive digging and deposits along the stream. The interventions in the natural environment start at Petreza and end at Arionos Street.» It also noted «fields extensively banked up with soil, the stream filled with rubble and covered in cement and cement pipes installed in the Etous district.» As the report comments, «this new trench crosses private properties, destroys crops, without any permit and in contravention of existing environmental legislation, downgrading the environment.» What is the response of Spata Mayor Athanassios Tountas? In a document dated October 13, 2004, he states, «The stream has not been delineated so there can be no accusation of altering the streambed.» He also writes that «the action of the municipality was aimed solely at helping citizens and farmers» who «had asked me to dig a trench on their properties so that the water would go to a specific place and not spread out.» Tountas adds, apologetically, «If, in this attempt, we have harmed even one citizen, we are prepared to set things to rights.» The mayor avoids answering the question of why he did not follow the legal procedure of obtaining a permit. As for his claim that the stream is not delineated, this is refuted by his own acceptance of it in August 2003, when he requested funding to clean the stream, saying, «Its exact position appears on the attached extract from the Hellenic Military Geographic Service map.» In fact, this is an example of blatant illegality which was not dealt with immediately by the prefecture and the situation has since deteriorated. Local residents complain that on September 20, pipes were placed in the diverted stream and another diversion was made a few hundred meters further along. «What can we ordinary farmers who have no connections do to get justice?» they wrote to East Attica Prefect Leonidas Kouris. «Why did you not issue an order at the outset for the stream to be returned to the position it has occupied for years?» Some local residents allege that the matter is linked to the planned extension of Attiki Odos and what they call «games being played to bring down agricultural land values so that opportunists can buy it cheaply.»