An application by a private firm for a permit to build an electricity plant in a protected Natura 2000 area on the southeastern tip of the Peloponnese has mobilized local residents concerned that construction of the 448-megawatt plant at Asproudia will mean the end of their livelihoods and way of life. The proposed site is in an idyllic coastal area in Laconia where farming and low-impact tourism are the main income earners. The municipal councils (in Neapoli, for the municipality of Vies on the mainland, in which the site is located, and on the island of Elafonisos, a short distance away across a narrow strait) as well as Laconia’s prefectural council have voted unanimously against the project, for which the approval of the Regulatory Energy Authority (RAE) is still pending. The firm, Steropis Thermoelektriki SA, submitted the application to RAE on July 13, 2007. «We are united. We do not want that installation,» Mayor Yiannis Kousoulis told Kathi-merini English Edition yesterday. He said the 400-million-euro project, which also provides for natural gas storage facilities, was not in keeping with the regional zoning plan which designated the area’s development as being in farming and low-impact tourism, nor with the draft national zoning plan, which is currently under discussion. If RAE decides to approve the firm’s application, Kousoulis plans to appeal to Development Minister Christos Folias, who is responsible for approving the operation of the plant. (The Environment and Public Works Ministry has the authority to approve its construction.) Political issue «We believe the issue is mainly political and that the most effective opposition is mobilization,» added Kousoulis. A 10-member committee has been visiting villages in recent months to brief local residents on the possible repercussions of such a project on the local economy and people’s health. A public meeting was held in December in Neapoli, attended by prefectural and municipal officials. «If these plans go ahead, we will resort to extreme measures. This is unanimous. We are determined,» said the mayor. Questions have been raised in Parliament by ruling New Democracy party deputy Grigoris Apostolakos as well as opposition MPs Leonidas Grigorakos (PASOK), Nikos Karathan-sopoulos and Dimos Koubouris (KKE), but also with the European Commission by PASOK Eurodeputy Evangelia Tzabazi. RAE, which received the application from the firm last July, has informed the Development Ministry that it is still under consideration and no decision has yet been made. In response to a question by PASOK deputy for Laconia Leonidas Grigorakos, Deputy Environment and Public Works Minister Stavros Kaloyiannis confirmed that the site in question was indeed in the Natura 2000 area, but that the ministry had not yet studied the issue, nor had any environmental study for the project been submitted to the ministry. Locals are also worried about plans to construct an industrial port alongside the plant. In the December issue of the local monthly newspaper Ta Vatika, Dionysis Anomitris, a member of the committee set up by the municipality to examine the issue, said Steropis Thermoelektriki SA, a subsidiary of GEK-Terna, was planning to use natural gas to provide power for the electricity plant, to be transported overland from Megalopoli and by sea from abroad. Gas reservoirs «The firm is planning to build a port where ships will be able to unload liquid natural gas into reservoirs to be built on the site, where it will be converted into gas,» wrote Anomitris. The planned storage site is just 2.5 kilometers from the village of Elafonisos, 1.5 kilometers from the villages of Viglafia and Megali Spilia, and 8 kilometers from the market town and local port of Neapoli, just an hour away from the island of Kythera. The committee is asking RAE to consider several issues before approving the firm’s application. First of all, the fact that the area is within the Natura 2000 site «Region of Neapoli and the island of Elafonisos, GR2540002» and just 2 kilometers from the Strongyli wetland, designated by the EU as a Site of Community Importance (SCI) for the conservation of flora and fauna. According to EU Directive 92/43, member states are obliged to do everything possible to preserve SCI areas. The area also has prehistoric and Byzantine antiquities, caves, medieval towers, fossils and a submerged ancient city of archaeological importance near the islet of Pavlopetri. Meanwhile, in recent years local residents have been investing in tourism – hotels, holiday apartments and camping sites – using their own capital and bank loans. «If such a factory is built, it will bankrupt local inhabitants who have invested and taken out loans; meanwhile the majority of the population who are employed in these businesses will be left jobless and financially ruined,» concluded Ano-mitris. «Steropis Thermoelektriki SA should know that it has chosen the wrong place to expand its activities in the energy sector. We advise it that the sites… are suitable only for the development of alternative tourism and we suggest that they consider moving in this direction and abandon their plans for an electricity plant… We will not allow them to destroy our land,» he wrote. The issue has also been raised with the European Commission in a question tabled by PASOK Eurodeputy Evangelia Tzabazi, who asks whether the project is compatible with the European Union’s environmental legislation on protected areas and the EU’s energy policy, the correct implementation of the provisions of the Aarhus Treaty regarding access to information and public participation in the decision-making process with regard to impacts on the environment. She also asked what steps would be taken to implement the laws governing Laconia’s ecosystem and its population’s right to live in an environment that has benefited their health and prosperity.