River, mountain shielded

New legislation unveiled by Environment Minister Tina Birbili yesterday seeks to heal two of Greece’s biggest open environmental wounds by placing strict restrictions on construction on Mount Hymettus in eastern Attica and limiting the amount of pollutants dumped into the Asopos River, north of Athens. The Asopos is one of Greece’s most polluted rivers and has been the subject of a long-running campaign by residents of Oinofyta who have urged authorities to prevent companies from dumping untreated waste into the water. Campaigners have linked the spike in the number of local people suffering from cancer with the high presence of hexavalent chromium in the river. Now, companies will be prevented from dumping untreated waste into the river and the level of hexavalent chromium will be limited to 3 micrograms per liter, which is less than the ceiling set by the European Union. The new legislation will reverse a 1969 law that allowed the Asopos to be treated as a waste channel and requires all the business operating near the river to obtain new permits by the middle of next year. Birbili also announced far-reaching plans to rein in building on Mount Hymettus, which includes the extension by 25 percent (from 7,600 hectares to 9,300) of Zone A, in which no construction is permitted. This means that 88.5 percent of the mountain is a no-building zone. Birbili said that all loopholes would be closed and that, over the next eight months, town-planning offices would have to make a list of all the illegal buildings in Zone A so that they can be demolished. In Zone B of the mountain, anyone wishing to build will need to have 4 hectares of land rather than 0.4 and will only be able to cover 15 percent of the plot. Birbili said legislation allowing monasteries on the mountain to be free of any construction limits would no longer apply. She also announced the creation of two metropolitan parks, one in Ilisia, western Athens, and in nearby Goudi. A park already exists in Goudi but it is due to be expanded and all the buildings located there, including the Badminton Theater, a popular venue for concerts and shows, will be demolished.

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