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              Full Article                                   21/3/2008 


( GR2230001)

Antinioti is a wetland situated on the northern coast of the island of Kerkyra (Corfu) and is important not least for the threatened Otter species Lutra-lutra, and many rare orchids, as well as the ecological balance of the area. The site is characterized by a variety of habitats and on which human activity has exerted little influence. It is an area of great significance on an island like Kerkyra which is under great pressure from much building construction.
The protection and sustainable management of the site can contribute not only to the preservation of wildlife but also to the economic development of the area (fishing, leisure activities, ecotourism etc). The greater the delay in establishing its legal status, the more the threats to the environment will increase. Antinioti wetland has been declared a Natura 2000 Zone, the declared aim of which is to assure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats, and a nature reserve by Greek legislation. However, an administrator of this delicate ecosystem has not yet been legally established. To do so, the main requirement is first to assign specialists to study the ecosystem in order to define the reserve and determine what human intervention / activities / uses of land are allowed within the zone’s boundaries, and up to what proximity outside the boundaries. (Reference Greek and European legislation: Law 1650/86, 2742/99/ EEC Directives: 79/409, EEC92/43 etc)
The lagoon of Antinioti has suffered land grabbing attempts in the past. Now there is a new threat. It has been disclosed that a large company has bought land in the area and has commenced proceedings to obtain permission to build a large development in this protected area. It is therefore now of vital importance that an official definition of its boundaries and lake-shore be conducted; requiring a comprehensive specialist study and financial support from the State.
The wetland is within the Municipality of Thinalion. In November 2007 the local Mayor Mr. Varelis,; without advising the community, declared an auction (public competition- to be awarded to the lowest bidder) to assign scientists to form a master plan and a conduct a specific environmental study. At the same time, he applied to the state authorities for this essential definition of the lake –shoreline.
Surprisingly, Mr.Varelis did not then close the auction for the necessary master plan and environmental study, but he went on to assemble his council to make a decision regarding the proposal to build what would be a tourist resort on a Pharaohic scale in the heart of the Natura Zone. The proposed development will be 45,000 sq m to be built on an area of 243,000 sq m on the area known as Nissos of St Ekaterini and first needs approval to change access roads.
This picturesque landscape is almost an island, encircled by the Antinioti lagoon which flows into the sea to both the east and west, and by the sea itself to the north. The proposed site for this giant development (part hotel and part summer residences) includes the medieval church of St.Ekaterini which was and is the only ancient human habitation in this area. The land is divided into two by a country road that goes through “NISSOS” and links the two estuaries of the lagoon by two small bridges; one pedestrian to the West, and one for small vehicles to the East. The building company has applied to the Mayor for permission to destroy the existing road and to lay a new lake perimeter road which will leave their land undivided, AND will also give them the advantage of a higher building factor (more buildings in the same land). The subject of permission for this change to the road cannot be separated from the plan to develop the land.
The Mayor has twice attempted to persuade the local council of the village of Perithia (Agios Elias) to acquiesce to the laying of a new road, ignoring the damage to the biotope, and at the same time promoting the prospective benefits to the local economy of this investment. Having failed to get the consensus of the local council of Perithia, he brought the topic before the municipal council on the 12/03/08 where this time representatives of environmental organizations and citizens had also gathered. He then postponed the discussion of the subject, announcing an open meeting in the village of Perithia on the 15/03/08 at a local “kafeneion” (coffee shop). Environmentalists gathered there in large numbers. This proved to be a lively meeting showing the area to be divided by those who want this project to proceed and those who object. Plans for the development were shown by the civil engineer for the project and the agent for the investor who were both in attendance.
The representatives of Environmentalist Organisations explained how this project will affect the wetland, and how disastrous the formation of the proposed road would be. Mr. Salvanos from «Antinioti Environmental Organisation» stressed that the Mayor must respect the law and implement the Greek Laws 1650/86 and 2742/99 that recommend; first, a specific environmental study of the wetland and formation of a legal framework for the ecosystem, and then afterwards allow human intervention. He also suggested that the Mayor should establish the official definition of the lake-shore boundaries, before ANY decision is made, and that the destruction of the existing country road is out of question. Mr. Salvanos pointed out that it is illegal for a private enterprise to destroy the small bridges that are situated on the sea shore in order to build a large vehicle access road because it is not permissible to build anything at all on the sea/lake shoreline in protected zones, unless it’s of a serious public interest such as for breakwaters or harbours (according to law 2971/01).
The head of the hotelier’s trades union was able to clarify why such a development would not benefit the local economy. He pointed out that in 1990 there were 10,000 people employed in the hotel industry, today there are only 6000, despite a number of new hotels having opened. This type of complex offers buffet style catering which involves employing far less staff. It is also has already been proven that such properties also employ large numbers of Polish and Czech staff who demand lower salaries.
Mr. Salvanos said that you cannot have the biologists and bulldozers at the same time in a Natura zone. Greece should respect and follow strictly EEC directives. He asked the Mayor to respect the law, and consider the substantial public expense (770.000 Euros so far) for the environmental study and establishing the definition of the lake shoreline as well as the expenses for the possible establishment of the so called Ecological Park of Antinioti. He stressed experts must first state what it is permissible to build there, if anything, what the approved uses of land are, and up to what proximity of the zone any development is permitted.
We find it unacceptable that the Mayor encourages the destruction of the existing road, allowing the bulldozers to flatten the flora and fauna, leaving nothing for scientists to study in future, or for people to enjoy, as he himself advocates on the Dimos Thinalion website. Despite the large numbers of visitors to Corfu, local business is currently in crisis. Guests to these complexes have all they need on site and do not venture through the gates into the local community. A quick look around villages such as Acharavi will show long established businesses which have been forced to close. The road itself forms part of a recently formed network of trails, the Corfu Trail, partly funded by the EU Interreg programme, and a network of blue walks within Dimos Thinalion. Walking is a specialist leisure activity enjoyed by many, and widely promoted as a new tourism. Specialist holidays of this nature attract independent travellers who DO use local facilities, rooms, tavenas, bars, supermarkets and souvenir shops.
We believe any commercial construction is unacceptable in a nature reserve, and beyond that, any such development will far from benefit the area, it will damage the local economy. Further reaching affects will be to tourism on the island in general as we are progressively losing more and more virgin land to concrete, destroying the very thing that people come to island to see; its natural beauty. Preserving this area is a duty for future generations. The Mayors attitude to the preservation of Lake Antinioti would appear to be entirely hypocritical.

CORFU 19.03.08

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