Kifissos River can take no more pollution

Land-grabbers, corrupt local officials and civil servants have for the past couple of decades been operating in a way that has resulted in the gradual deterioration of the environment along the banks of the Kifissos River that flows through Athens, turning it into a flowing garbage dump, a repository for toxic industrial waste, with widespread clogging of watercourses that prevent rainwater from flowing naturally, and illegal construction within the protected zone. As if that were not enough, now the Association of Manufacturers and Industrialists in areas alongside the river are asking the Development Ministry for another 12-year extension to their operating permits. If their request is satisfied, it will be the coup de grace to what is already a heavily polluted area. Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias said alternative sites for the Kifissos industries were being investigated but that the Development Ministry would have to provide strong economic incentives to offset the cost of moving the factories. Along the river, from its source in the mountains of Parnitha and Pendeli as far as Nea Philadelphia, a distance of about 12 kilometers, more than 500 illegal activities have been recorded within the protected area by the Kifissos Management and Restoration Agency. Other estimates put the figure at double that. The agency, which has not been staffed or funded since its inception, is unable to guarantee the protection of the environment; responsibility lies with local municipalities and prefectures and this is where the complications have set in as the complexity of the power-sharing system has made it easy for illegal actions to slip through the cracks. This has sometimes led to bizarre situations, such as when the mayor of Metamorphosis, Dimitris Tzitzifas, was sued by a land-grabber for daring to remove an illegally erected fence; meanwhile the districts of Anoixi and Kryoneri have been described as «dens of illegality» by the agency’s secretary, Dinos Laskaris, and Panayiotis Tsitouras, who is the coordinator of the Attica Ecology Campaign. Kryoneri’s community president, Ioannis Kalafatelis, said his services are unable to control the land-grabbers. He referred us to the Eastern Attica Prefecture. «We have reported all cases of land-grabbing and dumping of rubble by private individuals to the town-planning authorities. It is up to the Eastern Attica Prefecture to apportion blame,» he said. Anoixi Mayor Yiannis Nikitopoulos’s statement was in much the same vein. «The municipality has laid charges and imposed fines. That is what we could do and we have done it. The prefecture is the authority in charge of repairing the damage and imposing other penalties,» he said. Eastern Attica Prefect Leonidas Kouris said that often the prefecture was blamed by those trying to cover up their own responsibilities. «One can’t blame the prefecture for the situation along the Kifissos when the state has not ensured the implementation of a presidential decree issued in 1994 on protecting and restoring the river. As for business activities, the prefecture is in the process of recording them, revoking licenses and imposing fines for environmental violations. However, the final closure of these businesses is the sole responsibility of the state,» said Kouris. «On the Kifissos, the state is virtually being ambushed by a few cowboys because the state has not yet decided to support organizations such as the Kifissos Management and Restoration Agency that could do something about the environment,» said Laskaris. «When they listen to the industrialists and give them extensions to their operating licenses, then there is a problem. We recently met with Environment and Public Works Ministry General Secretary Evangelos Baltas and received assurances that the agency would receive funding. So we are waiting, hoping that this time promises will be kept.» «The state is largely responsible for the current terrible state of the river,» said Tsitouras, who has spent 30 years fighting to save the river. «As long as the laws are not implemented and those who break them are not penalized, the area around the river will continue to deteriorate.»