Ministry attempts to dispel environmentalists’ concerns

Public Works Ministry officials claim that the Olympic rowing center project at Schinias, on the Marathon plain northeast of Athens, will «restore the Schinias wetland to its natural state,» despite objections by environmental organizations that it would destroy the wetland and nearby pine forest as well as by archaeologists who point out that one of the most famous battles in antiquity – the Battle of Marathon – was fought there. Ministry officials might not be speaking literally but they are not only trying to dispel any concerns about possible effects on the wetland but to define the region’s future, in four separate ways. Firstly, they have stopped draining the swamp water, which, in combination with hydraulic works and the establishment of an overflow system for both canals that will feed the swamp around the Olympic center, will revive the wetland. The Schinias wetland does indeed appear to be assured of survival, since, though the area is now little more than a building site, the swans and other bird life have not abandoned it. Secondly, the Olympic project is perhaps the only one certain to be used after the Games as it will not remain purely a sporting venue but will be turned into an environmental education and research center and will be used for recreational and sporting activities that do not have an adverse effect on the environment. Therefore, the buildings designed for post-Olympic use will be permanent, in contrast to the Olympic fixtures which will be temporary structures. The starting area, including the towers used by the judges, will be used after the Games as observation towers for birdwatchers. The education center and National Park administration will be housed in the buildings used by officials during the Games. Thirdly, negotiations are under way with the European Union to have the project included in the Natura 2000 network. EU Commissioner for the Environment Margot Wallstrom has been trying to ensure that the Olympic building site will not have repercussions on the wetland. Last but not least, is the presidential decree of June 22, 2000 establishing a national park in the area, putting a halt to all construction (mostly illegal) in the area. The demarcation of the national park has skirted areas already built-up. Nevertheless, the existence of a number of construction cooperatives (of workers in the judiciary and police) is a problem. As the Olympic projects have progressed, one of the benefits has been the relocation of the Marathon airstrip, although the notorious navy bridge has not been moved, but, at least until the Games, its aerials have been transferred temporarily. What most people are asking, however, is whether work will continue after the Games to establish a true national park.