Giorgos Souflias: All illegal structures in the protected zone should be demolished

Kathimerini asked Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias what action he would take to implement the 1994 presidential decree on restoring the river, and what funds and staff would be provided so that the Kifissos Management and Restoration Agency could do its job of protecting the river’s natural environment. «All illegal structures in the protected zone along the river should be demolished, the agency will be mobilized, inspections stepped up and alternative areas found for the factories,» was his reply. According to Souflias, the ministry’s main priorities are: 1. Support for the Kifissos Management and Restoration Agency. «Last week the agency’s new board was appointed. We are also dealing with the problem of funding the agency with an ad hoc subsidy of 30,000 euros. Meanwhile, plans and projects for the agency have been included in the Fourth Community Support Framework (2007-2013). The agency had submitted a proposal for funding to the environment operational program but the proposal was rejected.» 2. Intensification of inspections by ministry teams and an increase in the amount of fines. «Since 2004, the ministry has visited and inspected 22 projects and activities around the Kifissos. Violations at 13 of these were found and fines totaling 176,350 euros have been referred to the relevant prefecture. All cases involving violations have been sent to the relevant public prosecutor. «I have ordered the environmental inspectors to step up their checks and exhaust all avenues for imposing fines. That is now feasible since the number of inspectors is to be doubled from 18 to 37 and eventually to a total of 66.» 3. Search for alternative industrial sites. «The 1994 presidential decree on the Kifissos provided for the removal of all industrial units, about 300 of them, within 10 years, that is by 2004. That was never done. This is a very complicated issue because it calls for strong economic incentives from the Development Ministry to offset the huge cost of transferring the businesses. Secondly, reception areas have to be designated to take these businesses. «I have instructed the Athens Organization to suggest areas and I believe that the problem can be solved within the new town plan for Athens we have drawn up. «There are two more very important factors that are outside my ministry’s jurisdiction, but which are decisive in implementing the presidential decree,» added Souflias. He said the first of these was faster court procedures in cases referred by the environmental inspectors. «I have great respect for the judicial process and am aware of the difficulties involved in speeding up that process, but I believe that priority should be given to cases involving a violation of environment law,» he said. The second factor has to do with the implementation of court rulings on the demolition of illegal structures in the Kifissos protected zone. «According to Law 3212/2003, responsibility for issuing administrative acts ordering demolitions lies with local government town-planning authorities. The regional general secretary can set a deadline of 30 days for an administrative act to be issued and carried out. After that deadline, the region has sole responsibility.»