Igoumenitsa: Thriving city behind the port

Igoumenitsa, just a village in the 1940s, has since seen rapid development because of its port and the sea connection with Italy. Now it is set for further growth as three new major projects boost the local economy: the completion of the Egnatia Highway linking Igoumenitsa with Alexandroupolis, the new commercial port and the Greek-Italian natural gas pipeline running from Azerbaijan to Otranto. At first glance things look promising for the capital of Thesprotia. Its port is the third largest in Greece, linked by ferry with Bari, Brindisi, Venice, Ancona, Paxos, Corfu and Patras. Many locals travel to Italy to shop, it now takes a mere hour to reach Ioannina, and isolation is a thing of the past. But the winds of economic prosperity have not strengthened the foundations of a city that has grown chaotically. In summer, when tourism surges, the lack of basic infrastructure becomes a serious problem. «Every city needs its landmarks, those symbols that signal the new things that are coming and embellish the old – infrastructure that changes our life and, by extension, our mentality,» said Thesprotian journalist Evangelos Athanasiou. «Unfortunately, though the city of Igoumenitsa is constantly developing, we can’t see in it the kind of infrastructure that indicates something different. It’s not just town-planning and traffic problems, there are other shortcomings.» Athanasiou would like to see a modern theater, exhibition space, sports facilities and venues for other events «that would give our city a completely different profile.» Igoumenitsa Mayor Thomas Pitoulis noted the lack of planning: «Igoumenitsa is a new city that is growing rapidly but without planning. We are one of very few cities to be still using the building coefficient that was introduced during the junta.» Another issue in the news is where exactly the new pipeline will end. The prefectural council met last week to discuss precisely this with residents of nearby Syvota and Perdika, which were chosen to house the installation. The inhabitants are uneasy about environmental repercussions and claim that emissions of pollutants, no matter how small, will harm the atmosphere. They also express concern about the effects on farm produce, olive oil, marine flora and fauna, noise and the risk of accidents and earthquakes. «Everyone acknowledges the strategic importance of the pipeline for Thesprotia and Greece, but nobody wants it in their own backyard,» said Pitoulis. «Both areas attract tourism and they are right to be concerned. There has to be an alternative solution,» said Athanasiou. Almost two years have passed since the North Korea-flagged REI sank off the coast of Igoumenitsa while being loaded with bricks. Though prompt action at the time prevented an ecological disaster from an oil leak, nobody has shown any serious interest in removing the potential source of pollution. The hulk of the ship remains half-submerged in plain view, as the owners have ignored efforts by the Igoumenitsa Port Authority (OLIG) to get them to remove it. OLIG unsuccessfully called for tenders last August, and again in October. The shipwreck thus seems set to become the city’s landmark.