Important developments at Koumbara, part 2 – Government agencies drag their feet for restoring the area

 

We return to the Koumbara case. In our previous post, we wrote about decision 1607/2023 of the penal branch of Areios Pagos, Greece’s Supreme Court on civil and penal matters, that confirmed the 9-month suspended jail sentence handed out by the Appeals Court of the Aegean to the legal representative of company 105 SA for environmental and building violations. We also wrote that any penal sentence for the violations at Koumbara does not have automatic or direct implications for the decisions that the administration would take about the restoration of the area. 

 

The developments on the restoration front are negative, but we hope to be reversible. By way of background, the environment inspectors made two visits to Koumbara. The first visit took place in 2016. During that visit, the inspectors documented and subsequently confirmed (after receiving the company’s responses) eight violations. The case was forwarded to the Prosecutor and led to the suspended jail sentence of the legal representative of 105 SA. The second visit took place in 2018 and was necessary because 105 SA had not granted full access to the inspectors at Diakofto in 2016. During that visit, the inspectors documented and subsequently confirmed twelve additional violations. For the twelve violations, 105 SA was fined 132000 Euros by the Regional Government in May 2023. In total, TWENTY (!) violations of 105 SA were documented and confirmed. The company was thus acting without the slightest regard for the environment and the laws protecting it.

 

The negative developments about the restoration of Koumbara concern primarily a recent decision by the Regional Government.

 

In June 2023, and following up on the fine that the Regional Government imposed in May, 105 SA submitted a draft Plan of Corrective Actions (PCA), detailing how it would repair the environmental damage that it had caused at Koumbara. That draft had many problems. To make matters worse, in November 2023, the Regional Councillor in charge of the Environment replied to 105 SA indicating corrective actions for addressing only FOUR violations (out of the twenty that had been verified). The Regional Councillor referred 105 SA to three other government agencies that were responsible, according to her, for determining corrective actions for the remaining confirmed violations: the agency granting building permits (Πολεοδομία) at Santorini, the agency managing the state’s property (Κτηματική Υπηρεσία), and the environment inspectorate at the Ministry of Environment and Energy. The Regional Councillor reached her decision without any proposal to that effect by the relevant Regional agency.

 

The Regional Councillor used a bizarre logic to justify her decision. She mentioned that most of the violations took place during the period that the permits for the construction of a Tourist Village in Koumbara, granted in 2014 and 2015, were valid. Since, however, those permits were cancelled by Greece’s Supreme Court in 2022, the Regional Councillor argued that she could not approve a PCA for the corresponding violations. 

 

Our association believes that the Regional Councillor’s decision is deeply flawed. By using the cancellation of the permits of the Tourist Village by the Supreme Court as an excuse, she removes from consideration all the violations that were made in regard to these permits. The right thing to do should instead have been to require that the damage caused by ANY construction in the area is repaired, whether that construction was made in violation of the cancelled permits or in compliance with the cancelled permits.  

 

Another serious problem with the Regional Councillor’s decision is that she divides the responsibility of repairing the environmental damage across four different government agencies. This makes compliance practically impossible, as each agency can blame the others for any delays. 

 

Our association, together with Sindesmos Iiton (Σύνδεσμος Ιητών) association, filed a request with the Central Government branch of the Southern Aegean asking for the cancellation of the Regional Councillor’s decision because of the problems listed above and of additional important problems. We find it unacceptable that the Regional Government handles the restoration of Koumbara in that manner.

 

It is not the first time that the Regional Councillor for the Environment takes decisions along these lines. As we mentioned above, the fine for the inspection made in 2018 was signed in 2023. The Regional Councillor had to sign the document, and it took her four whole years to do so. As a result of that delay, the case was forwarded to the prosecutor close to the five-year statute of limitations, and there is a significant risk that it is dismissed altogether and that 105 SA is not held accountable for the twelve violations. Our association took legal action against the Regional Councillor on that matter.

We will continue to put pressure on all relevant agencies, both at the level of the Regional Government and at that of the Central Government. Without our efforts and those of Sindesmos Iiton, there is a serious risk that the situation in Koumbara is covered up and that the ugly constructions remain there forever and become more numerous and larger.

See Also

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