Green checks set to rise

The number of state environmental inspectors will more than double at the end of the month, the government revealed yesterday as it set about defending its green record, which has been heavily criticized recently. Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said that the number of inspectors working for the Environment and Public Works Ministry will be increased from 19 to 45 within the next two weeks. «If someone thinks that an increase of 120 percent is not enough, then that is their point of view,» said the spokesman in response to a question about whether the new number of inspectors will suffice to tackle environmental offences in Greece. The service was set up in 2004 and, according to Antonaros, has so far conducted some 600 checks and has recommended to authorities fines totaling about 10 million euros. This announcement comes just one day after the ministry said it was quadrupling the size of fines for polluting firms from 500,000 to 2 million euros. Antonaros said that inspections around Lake Koroneia near Thessaloniki had already been stepped up. The lake has again become heavily polluted with bacteria that threaten wildlife in the area. Following a similar environmental disaster at Koroneia in 2004, a plan was drawn up to protect the lake but it has yet to be implemented. Antonaros said the government had earmarked 42 million euros for the project and blamed the delay on Thessaloniki Prefecture. He said the local authority signed up technical advisers for the project last month, paving the way for implementation of the scheme. Meanwhile, Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias continued to court controversy following his decision to allow 100 hectares of land at the site of the old airport at Hellenikon, southern Athens, to be sold to developers to fund the creation and maintenance of a huge park in the same area. Local mayors have objected to the plan, saying they do not want any construction to take place but at a meeting with the officials yesterday, Souflias told them he will not revise his plans.