Anarchic building boom on Mount Mainalo

The thickly forested areas on and around Mount Mainalo in Arcadia, sustained over centuries, are considered to be some of the country’s most extensive wooded areas, but the region’s proximity to Athens and its ski center have ensured that instead of attracting nature lovers it is the destination of those seeking to build luxury villas, some even with their own helipads, in glades among the fir trees. Meanwhile the scars left by a huge fire in 2000 have not yet healed and the Special Environmental Study commission on the area is gathering dust. Th latest move in the invasion of housing developers has been the construction of a complex of about 10 homes (called the «Kotsovolos» settlement by locals and state services) at Mourtzia. High walls, sports fields and a helipad have been built on a site that is classified as «non-forest,» making use of a loophole that allows construction on agricultural properties of more than 4,000 square meters. Settlements such as these open the way for other kinds of construction. Another building has gone up opposite the original settlement, while another entrepreneur has started building further up the road. A new neighborhood is coming into being in the middle of the wilderness. A number of clearings on the Mainalo range, most of them right on the road, have been fenced off. The unity of the forest has been broken up by wire netting, fences and walls. The concrete mixer is no doubt on its way. Power lines have been erected to bring electricity to the Kotsovolos settlement, necessitating the felling of dozens of fir trees. The Public Power Corporation (PPC) branch in Tripolis claims no knowledge of any power supply to the settlement, nor has the Forestry Service granted its permission. Following protests, the electricity was not connected and the cut wires were left lying on the ground for years. However, local residents have reported that work recently began to connect the lines. Environmental study The Arcadia Prefecture has commissioned a Special Environmental Study within the framework of the Life-Natura Program despite objections from the Forestry Service that Mainalo is governed by forestry legislation. The study does not fully deal with the protection of the mountain habitat. It does not forbid construction outside town limits but makes the current legal provisions stricter and makes it more difficult to build on the mountain. For example, it forbids the construction of buildings of over 1,000 square meters outside town limits, and raises the minimum area on which buildings may be constructed from 4,000 to 6,000 square meters. However, it has not been enacted but remains in the files of the Environment and Public Works Ministry. «The delays are no coincidence,» said Panayiotis Vemos, who heads the prefectural ticket Arkadon Koinon. Referring to the responsibilities of both the Environment and Public Order Ministry and the prefecture, he added: «There is a lot of interest in construction in the Roucha plain above Levidi, near the ski center. The plain is over 1,000 meters high and so there is pressure to ban construction outside town limits only on properties above 1,200 meters, which would make the provision useless.» Arcadia Prefect Dimitrios Constantopoulos told Kathimerini that the prefecture had «done a great deal for the forest.» «It is the first certified forest. We have constructed paths and so on. The presidential decree has indeed been delayed, but now, after the (local) elections, we will deal with the problem,» he said. The biggest problem at the moment is the sight of bare slopes on the mountain, the result of the catastrophic fires of 2000 when about 3,200 hectares of forest went up in smoke – about a third of western Mainalo. Many locals have linked the fire with vested interests. «Is it a coincidence that the first fire ever in this legendary forest occurred just after unplanned construction began on the mountain?» asked one resident. «It was arson. On the second day of the fire we saw a front 1 kilometer long developing,» said Christos Voyiantzis, municipal councilor in Stemnitsa and the last forestry fire patrolman on Mainalo. Based on data from the Vytina Forestry Service, 900 hectares have been reforested, less than a third of the area destroyed in the blaze. Officials at the service say there are insufficient funds to finish the job. Many locals question the figures. The truth is that the bare slopes are in the majority. «There have been no flood prevention measures, the soil has been washed away and is now arid. It has been classified as rocky, so it will not be reforested,» said Voyantzis.

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