None of those who attended the meeting of the Environment Committee left any wiser about what is happening in the projects that have been carried out in recent months for the first phase of improvement of part of the road network of the Akamas National Forest Park, from Aspro Potamos (entrance to Akamas from Pegeia) to Lara, with the Director General of the General Directorate of environment of the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment, Kostas Hatzipanagiotou implicitly but clearly asking for patience until next Tuesday when the administrative investigation of the Ministry will be completed, in order to answer whether the terms of the ecological report have been given by the competent authority to the designers to be taken into account in the construction projects and whether the final construction plans were presented before the committee.
At the same time, Mr. Hatzipanagiotou referred to four strategic points, as he said, for the Ministry. First, he stated that the state does not intend to terminate the road construction projects of the strategic plan of the National Forest Park.
He added that the Ministry is in communication to identify a foreign specialist in protected parks, to soon re-evaluate the criteria and parameters of the project.
He noted that no new road was made in Lara, but part of a road was opened which was written in advance, while mostly informal roads were used for transit, which belonged to private land.
Finally, he noted that the ministry has taken seriously the proposal of environmental organizations to assess any damage and its extent to the geographical coverage for habitat loss and noted that a relevant study is being implemented by the Department of forests and the Department of environment that will be ready by the end of next week.
However, MPs expressed their dissatisfaction with the government services, as they said, they have not received sufficient answers so far about what happened in Akamas, whether the ecological studies were followed, whether roads were widened or whether there were violations of the terms of the contract.
Addressing the floor, Hatzipanagiotou said that so far it has been established that during construction works piles were removed, which should prevent vehicles from deviating from the designated roads, but, as he stressed, the wider problems will be demonstrated by the administrative investigation of the Ministry of Agriculture, which will be completed, after an extension decision, next Tuesday.
The partially frozen works and the contractor's two requests
Describing the picture that prevails today in the area of the works (from the White River, i.e. the entrance to Akamas from Pegeia, to Lara) and the developments, from the first session of the Environment Committee of the Parliament last Wednesday (22/11), until today, Mr. Hatzipanagiotou gave the following points:
In essence, the works have been "frozen", i.e. there are no major construction activities or opening new works, but some work is done by the contractor, which is related to safety and risk in some places.
There are thoughts on how to solve outstanding issues regarding the contract, at the Central Committee for changes and requirements (Keepa).
An ad hoc committee has been established within the CSDP, which will deliver a report on current issues that existed in the CSDP for any compromise with the contractor.
This report will be submitted to the CSDP in the next 5-10 days. The Deputy Director of the Forest Department, Andreas Christou, explained that the contractor initially submitted a request to the CEAA for an extension, for which the decision of the Commission is pending. It then submitted a second request asking for an amicable settlement regarding financial claims and an extension of the implementation of the project, which was referred to the ad hoc committee for a final decision.
On behalf of the Department of Forests, contacts have been made with the Department of Public Works for the regulation of issues related to risk and safety, for the introduction of information signs and information, while the Department of Forests has created a moving workshop which will be on site in the project and which will deal with issues of safety, risk or even water pumping if necessary.
Regarding the future expansion of the road network, he said that the next phases are being re-evaluated, citing statements by the Minister of Agriculture, Petros Xenophontos, who had said that a full re-evaluation of the indicators and parameters of the road and the junctions will take place. They want the local authorities to continue their work immediately.
Representatives of the local authorities, in particular the mayor of Polis Chrysochous, Yiotis Papachristofi, and the municipality of Ineia, Giagos Tsivikos, expressed their dissatisfaction with the freezing of the works, noting that they must continue immediately, without obstacles. "We put a lot of water in our wine to accept the National Forest Park plan.
We expected it to be completed as soon as possible and to have some benefits," Papachristofi said, noting that he believes there are no issues raised by environmental organizations. "If changes are needed, let the work be done as soon as possible," he said, referring to "unacceptable changes" that were not included in the agreement.
For his part, Mr. Tsivikos spoke of "a collusion to stop the project." He called for the construction of the road to continue, because, as he said, the only ones who benefit from the delay are the contracting company and the environmental organizations, because, in his opinion, the former comes out of the difficult position, since the project is delayed, and the latter, according to his expression, have a reason for existence. He also wondered why for 13 months no one has seen these problems.
He asked "to continue the road network works quickly, despite the fact that what was agreed was not respected, because initially what was agreed was to first become the road network leading from the communities to the Akamas SAR, but started from Pegeia to the SAR".
MPs expressed their dissatisfaction with the government services, as they said they have not received sufficient answers so far about what happened in Akamas, whether the ecological studies were followed, whether roads were widened or whether there were violations of the terms of the contract.
The Auditor General's investigation and the target of the road network
At the same time, an investigation of the road network is under way. Odysseas Michaelides said his own compliance report would not be ready before January. Also, responding to the local authorities, he said that if we consider that the goal of the development of the road network is to give development rights to residents, it means that those who say that the road is not designed as foreseen by the ecological assessment for limited use are confirmed.
He noted that this area has always been with very limited development rights, with one exception in 1979, when very limited "unacceptable" development rights were given, which were then set aside. As he noted, those residents who appealed to the courts over the matter "all lost." He added that"it does not mean that, because Akamas is close to the sea, we should say that plots will be made." In his own comment, the Director-General of the Directorate-General for Environment, said that the scenario would avoid the road network becoming a "guide" for development rights. At the same time, he clarified that the road network will make it easier for Akamas SAR visitors to go to the communities, such as for accommodation, but in no case for development rights.
"We have not crossed the road."
For his part, George Chrysochos, director of the Cyfield group that has undertaken the project, referred to video and provided aerial photographs taken by drone before and after the start of work, noting that "it is documented that the dirt road is not fully occupied by the works. The road is of a shorter span than the dirt road. We have not widened the road anywhere at the expense of the environment." Responding, the auditor-general noted that there are photographs that had been included in the study of the situation before the works "and it is obvious that there were no roads 10 meters wide."
The Cyfield group's director also said that they have fully adhered to the environmental study, adding that some materials have been placed in places foreseen by it and there is no substantial differentiation from the plans.He said the only thing left to complete the promenade is the carriageways and to close the road. "It does not take much time to complete the beach.
We can complete it in a few weeks. As a result, we do not believe that the completion of the project will place more of a burden on the environment. On the contrary, if it stays that way it will create more environmental problems. We are ready to complete it," he said. The view that the time extension is a significant burden on the ecosystem was also expressed by a representative of ETEK, underlining the importance of the short completion of the projects. He also said that " prima facie the contractor is following the studies that have been done."
Positions of environmental organizations
On behalf of Akamas' friends, Kyriakos Tsimillis said that the Ministry's investigation, committed to re-evaluation, does not refer to the project's intended goal. "These roads should serve traffic needs only by minibuses of the park and not by encouraging the access of hundreds of private cars for which 658 parking spaces were created." He also raised the issue of the summary in the legislation of the term "National Park" which in itself would give clear answers about how a special area, such as the Akamas Peninsula, is protected.
For his part, Kleitos Papastylianou, of the Wildlife Protection Association, said that 6 of the 7 members of the ad hoc committee, recognize that the terms of the ecological study were violated. He noted that environmental organizations visited the site and recorded, photographed and documented the violation of terms, in a 34-page table. "The fault lies in the plans, which differ from the terms of the Environmental Authority. No one disputed the fact that the preliminary draft regulations were submitted to the ad hoc committee. The final construction plans were never submitted," he said.
Consideration of possible conflict of interest
The parliamentary committee also examined a possible conflict of interest of employees of the study Company "Eupalinos Meletiki" who did the study of the project. With questions, the MP of Volt Cyprus, Alexandra Attalidou, asked whether the current scholar of the company was a municipal engineer in the municipality of Paphos, and whether the second employee is a landowner with a holiday home in Inia.
The employees of the company said that they do not see how the questions of Mrs. Attalidou are related to the discussion, noting the first that while he was himself previously a municipal engineer of the municipality of Paphos, he is not related to the publication of the study, but the company that made it, while the second noted that he has an olive grove in Inia, with storage space and an old stiadi.
Tension ensued, with tones rising between Diko MP Chrysanthos Savvidis and Ms Attalidou, with Mr Savvidis saying "We don't care where (the employee) was before" and Ms Attalidou to reply that "we are interested that the former municipal engineer is now a scholar of the project".
The auditor-general said the parties have a contractual obligation to take measures to prevent conflict of interest. The representatives of the company "Efpalinos Meletiki " expressed the opinion that there had been delays in the completion of the project and had requested the termination of the contract with the contractor. "Our view: the project must end as it is," they said.
[This article was translated from its Greek original]