Illegal quarries still open

Two mining companies that have taken advantage of legal loopholes for 45 years to operate quarries at Markopoulo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Athens, are to be investigated by the Supreme Court, after it emerged yesterday that they have ignored a series of court orders to cease operations. The Development Ministry revealed that it had commissioned its own study into the controversial quarries, which confirmed numerous news reports and complaints from residents that mining, including the blasting of parts of the mountain, was continuing. The ministry last September asked the Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration (IGME) to begin examining whether activity was continuing at Mount Merenda and in its 60-page report IGME concluded that quarrying was undoubtedly continuing despite several court rulings that ordered the companies to stop mining activity. Two aerial photographs, one taken last September and the other this June, show that one side of the mountain has been blasted. «The truth is obviously unpleasant,» said Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis. «There is no reason for us to reconcile ourselves with these illegal activities. There is no reason for us to hide the truth. Anyone who is breaking the law will have to answer to justice.» Hatzidakis said that he was passing on all the information to the Supreme Court so that it could investigate the matter and initiate legal action against the firms. This is the latest attempt to stop the mining through the law courts. In August 2007, one year after the Council of State ordered the quarries to cease operating, officials from the Prefecture of Eastern Attica supposedly shut them down. Greece’s highest administrative court ruled that the Latomeia Markopoulou and Stavrou Latomeia quarries should close because they were damaging the local environment and residents’ health. A study by the Athens Observatory found that dust particles emitted by the quarrying meant that air pollution at Markopoulo was equal to that in the most heavily polluted parts of Athens.