Contractors reluctant to rake up funds

Former Environment Minister Costas Laliotis promised a «green Athens» when he announced a program for deluging the city with millions of trees and plants. A little more moderate, or realistic, than her predecessor, the current public works minister, Vasso Papandreou, announced a more specific program – of 822,500 trees and 14,000,000 bushes, with 41.50 hectares covered with plants and lawn, requiring 28,000 cubic meters of water a day. The project is budgeted at 206.6 million euros. Papandreou notes that the ratio of square meters of green space per person is very low in Athens and that Attica needs greenery, regardless of the Olympic Games. Two years before the Games, however, little has been done to provide greenery for the city that will host the 2004 Olympics. Last week, two projects for upgrading existing green areas in Pedion tou Areos and the National Gardens were announced. But in most cases, green spaces are the last part of a project after all the other technical work is complete, and little attention is paid to them. Only three contracts have been signed with nurseries, for projects in Faliron, Aghios Cosmas and Schinias. Otherwise, most Greek nurseries have only a general idea of what quantities of plants will be required. Meanwhile, though drilling work on bores is proceeding, there are serious doubts as to whether there will be enough water. But the fundamental problem is that there is no provision whatsoever for maintaining the green spaces after 2004. As Michalis Stoyiannis, president of the Panhellenic Union of Horticultural Contractors pointed out, maintaining a plant costs 10 times as much as actually growing it. Low priority The projects for green spaces are included in Olympic sports grounds projects, major transport projects and the program for the unification of archaeological sites. There are also provisions for upgrading existing greenery, reforestation and planting restored quarries. These programs involve replanting when works have been completed, or restoring the landscape after projects like roadworks. In both cases, the greenery is included in the whole project. Once the project has been tendered and subcontracted in accordance with the law, the subcontractor must collaborate with a specific nursery. But, says Stoyiannis: «Such projects must be tendered quickly. The contractors are naturally concerned about cement and we are concerned about greenery, which are opposites. The contractors reduce the funds as much as possible when they subcontract the greenery projects, so there is less greenery. Typically, in the three cases where greenery projects have been assigned, the budget was only 300,000 euros each.» Following the advice of experts, YPEHODE chose trees and plants that suit the Attic climate and the places they are to be planted. But plant growth can’t be expedited like other projects. Costas Matsoukas, a member of the Flower Growers Cooperative of Greece, told Kathimerini: «Every plant needs work done before it can be planted, and time to grow. For instance, it takes six months to prepare bushes like oleanders and myrtles. We’ve increased plant production but there have to be specific orders, commitments and deposits for us to prepare the plants that are required.» But even if all this is done, Greece may still have to import plants from Italy. Spain managed to avoid that, and the need for plants for the 1996 Olympic games in Barcelona was an excellent opportunity for Spanish nurseries to develop. Plants used purely as decor will dry up immediately afterward. «The plants will be watered by bore water,» says Stoyiannis. «But Attica’s water table is very low, and those bores will probably not yield enough water in a few years’ time. One solution is to use a pipe to take away the waste water which builds up at the Metamorphosi station, or to have collection tanks at sites where there is greenery.» What if there isn’t enough time to do a study for such projects? Stoyiannis insists: «There are studies. It’s just that greenery is not a priority.»

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