The Council of the Municipality of Trifylia has finally voted against a controversial and illegal development project within southern Kyparissia Bay, a major sea turtle nesting beach. The motion put forward for vote in the Council's meeting of May 2nd was "whether the planned commercial development proposed and heavily pushed by "Neos Kotinos S.A." is in agreement in spirit with environmental protection and the sense of sustainable development". Twenty members of the Council voted "no", ten abstained, and two voted blank, after a heated debate in which many members were in favour of development but accepted that illegal construction and environmental degradation will only create problems in the area.
The illegal internventions in the area between Agiannakis and Elaia of southern Kyparissia Bay began in April 2011, when bulldozers illegally paved four roads behind the beach, destroying parts of the forest and dunes. In the months that followed, it became apparent that a company named "Neos Kotinos S.A." with informal blessing of members of the local Council, was planning the construction of fifty luxury homes in the core area of the Natura 2000 protected area.
No construction permits have been approved for this project, and the Ministry of Environment has advised the company that the planned project would violate laws related to the protection of the environment and planning, quoting a judgement by the Council of State, Greece's Supreme Administrative Court, which in a similar case ruled that large-scale housing construction outside planning zones is not permissible, as it amounts to the creation of a new settlement. Moreover, the project in question cannot be approved under recently passed laws that aid tourism development or large-scale investment, as Natura 2000 regulations derive from European law and cannot be overriden.
Rumors of the development plans were initially accompanied by promises of hundreds of new jobs during and after construction, and an influx of high-class tourism. More recently, though, locals have raised awareness in their community that they may actually lose access to the forest and beach of Elaia. During the Council meeting, a representative of the company admitted that the plans are a real estate development; the luxury homes would be built to be sold to private owners, who may only spend a few days per year in the area and leave little income to local restaurants and shops.
Although this vote steers the local Council away from directly violating European and Greek laws, the case is far from closed. The European Commission and the Bern Convention are in the formal process of potentially taking the case of southern Kyparissia Bay to the European Court of Justice. Although recent guerilla-style internventions that damage parts of the forest and the dunes are difficult to conclusively attribute to "Neos Kotinos S.A." without appropriate investigations, the Greek State has an obligation to ensure damages to this ecosystem are restored and to put mechanisms in place that will "strictly protect" it in the future and promote sustainable development.
The company's shady tactics have now angered locals. A few weeks ago, a group of tractors ploughed through and destroyed part of the sand dunes of the area. This was seen as a tactic of the company to expand the property boundaries and brought the unclear lineage of ownership back into focus. Most importantly, yesterday's peaceful demonstration at the forest brought an important number of local residents and groups together and encouraged many to raise their voices, ask hard questions, and expose the real face of those who wish to damage and profit from their environmental treasure.