Nature in all its majesty vs bauxite mine

Residents of the region around Mount Iti, central Greece, along with many organizations with a focus on the environment are clashing with the ELMIN mining company and the Fthiotida Labor Center that are calling for industrial development and new jobs. At stake is the future of the region, and whether that is to revolve around low-impact agricultural, livestock and agritourism development or bauxite mining, or perhaps a combination of the two. In the fall of 2006 ELMIN submitted an application to the Environment and Public Works Ministry for permission to dig two shafts in order to mine bauxite in the area around the village of Koumaritsi, on Mt Iti. It also sought permission to conduct extensive exploration on the mountain, drilling at 250 points, although this is disputed by local organizations that claim the actual number of drill holes is 296. ELMIN said it would fund the entire bauxite exploration program and has promised to restore any flora destroyed in the process. It received no reply to its request – perhaps because of fears surrounding the number of drill holes requested. The Fthiotida Prefectural Council rejected the request for the two shafts, although it did not take a specific stand, citing a lack of unanimity among the regional organizations involved and the Labor Center. Local residents and environmental groups continued their protest action to prevent the mining and on April 27 staged a 20-kilometer hike to the national park from the village of Pavliani to Koumaritsi and back. Normally, the fact that Mt Iti is a protected area under the Natura 2000 convention and the site of the two projected shafts is in a Special Protection Area for birds should have been reason enough to put an end to the project. According to an announcement by local residents, mining activities mean more roads, heavy vehicle traffic and noise, as well as irreversible ecological changes such as the destruction of sensitive ecosystems and the displacement of threatened species of wildlife, both birds and mammals. Moreover, it would disturb the mountain’s natural water resources. By making the district a mining area, hundreds of people employed in the tourism, food, construction, trade and farming sectors would be threatened with unemployment. Initiatives by local groups have found support from around the country, with signatures from 43 different organizations. ELMIN’s view The ELMIN mining firm has been in the area since 1999 after winning a contract to extract bauxite from the Skalistiri mines which now employ about 150 people and have a total annual production of 300,000 tons, all of which is exported. The firm estimates that in the Koumaritsi area there are bauxite deposits of 600,000 to one million tons. If their application is approved, the firm will employ an additional 50 workers and occupy about 4 hectares of forest. The shafts will produce an average of about 500 tons of bauxite daily. The firm also said trucks with a loading capacity of about 25 tons will be taking the ore to the private harbor of Aghia Marina 16 hours a day at a rate of two trucks per hour. It also estimates that the mines will have a life span of 10 years. ELMIN has proposed a price of 0.25 euros per ton and 12,000 euros annually to the owners of the land. The price of bauxite, which is rising all the time, is currently about 26 euros a ton; 2.5 tons of ore are needed to produce a ton of pure aluminium. According to ELMIN’s CEO Lymberis Polychronopoulos, the sites chosen for the two tunnels are 850 meters from the village, are not in the heart of the national park and will not spoil the landscape. The Fthiotida Labor Center’s view is interesting in that its support of ELMIN’s plans appears to go beyond any understandable concern for the jobs that will be lost if the investment does not go ahead. The DAKE union (affiliated to the ruling New Democracy party) branch in Fthiotida has issued a lengthy statement accusing those who are against the mines of being terrorists, and also attacking ND parliamentary deputy Ilias Kalioras, who is against the project encroaching on a protected area. «Our question is also directed at deputy Ilias Kalioras,» said the announcement, «as to whether he thinks… we are living in a liberal European country or in Chavez’s Venezuela and whether he is suggesting nationalization or arbitrary reversals of state acts, particularly as he is head of his party’s financial department.» Asked whether more jobs could not be created by a more low-impact form of development, the head of the Labor Center said there had been enough speeches and too many jobs had been lost through deindustrialization. [email protected]

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.