Alarm bells ring for Koroni

Tourism has grown strongly in recent years in the seaside town of Koroni, with its imposing Venetian castle, but without any loss of its picturesque attractions. The local residents are still engaged in farming, principally producing the famous Koroni olives and olive oil, as well as their special black Corinthian currants. They see their region, part of which is listed in the Natura 2000 program, as blessed. Thus the news that some 2,300 hectares on the boundary of Koroni municipality are at risk of being resculpted to look like the surface of the moon came like a bolt from the blue. The local authorities found this out by chance when Efthymios Paraskevaidis published his application for approval from the Energy Planning Authority (PAE) for his firm, Iraklis Greek Energy, to set up and operate a 600-megawatt lignite-burning thermoelectric power station at Akritohori, Messinia. As required by law, he inserted the notice in the newspaper on two consecutive days, May 7 and 8, but in two Athenian papers which have very low circulation. In such cases, any objections must be filed within 15 days from the date of publication. «Nobody from the company got in contact with us before lodging the application,» Koroni Mayor Dimitris Vergopoulos told Kathimerini. «Luckily we found out about it, albeit by chance, and we managed to present our views to PAE, so they could be taken into account when the application was being assessed.» PAE sources say that the evaluation process is not yet complete and that the opinions of the locals, who have unanimously opposed the project, will be taken into account. But, they say, local communities always react against the prospect of a large thermoelectric station being installed almost literally in their backyard, but that PAE has received many more positive than negative opinions. So it is not surprising that the local residents and municipality are concerned about the future of their place. «It is clear that such an activity, that is the mining of lignite to produce electrical power, will alter existing circumstances.» says Vergopoulos. «We are basically a farming area, which is gradually opening up to tourism since, among other things, Koroni is situated on a headland and has long beaches. This year we had 15,000 visitors. But all this ‘dowry’ is at risk of being destroyed and nobody has the right to do that. The installation of a thermoelectric power station will spoil any prospect of development and current potential for agricultural production. Who will come here to invest if the power station plan is implemented?» Akritohori, the projected site of the power plant, is very close to the sea, above Foinikounda, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Peloponnese. Apart from anything else, as Vergopoulos notes, lignite mining will destroy a protected area and disrupt the ecosystem, and though the investor has promised to employ clean technology, the plant will harm the environment. The Koroni Town Council has passed a solution expressing its categorical opposition to the company’s plans, as have neighboring councils. PAE officials admit that the spirit of the legal obligation to publish applications is undermined when such announcements are made in newspapers with low circulation, whether to save money or so that the plans go unnoticed. But this practice is followed in 90 percent of cases. For this reason, since the beginning of the year, PAE has automatically posted news of all the applications it receives. Opposition to wind turbines as well Koroni residents are up in arms about another environmental issue. A company called Mavrovouni Wind Park SA has applied to PAE to amend the permit it has already been issued to set up a wind park in Koroni municipality. It wants to reduce the number of wind turbines from 15 to 12, but to raise their height and increase the overall output of the plant to 24 megawatts. Though this issue has not raised the strenuous opposition that greeted plans for the power plant, municipal authorities and residents have expressed objections. The site designated for the wind park is proposed for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network and is of great zoological and ornithological importance. Mavrovouni, together with Akrotirio Akritas, Sapienza and Schiza, is a major stopping point for migratory birds, whose flights will be affected by the wind turbines.