By George Psyllides
From the air it appears like a huge scar on an otherwise pristine environment near the Akamas peninsula, in Paphos. The Androlikou quarry, the biggest in Cyprus, is an abomination to conservationists since it literally sits on the border of an environmentally sensitive area, the Androlikou gorge, a Natura 2000 site.
For locals the quarry is not only a blight in an area of outstanding natural beauty, but it also impacts on the value of their properties and the quality of their lives with the noisy, dirty to-ing and fro-ing of trucks laden with rocks from the quarry.
Conservationists share many of those concerns and are also worried about the future of the Rusettus aegyptiacus, the fruit bat, or Nihtopapparos, as it is known locally.
Cyprus is the only European country to host the fruit bat but its population appears to be in decline in recent years and environmentalists argue that more needs to be done to protect it.
However, it will be an uphill struggle as more and more applications are being filed to open new quarries in the area.
Three, that concerned areas inside the Natura 2000 zone, have already been rejected but more keep coming, citing the need for raw materials, mainly stone to be used as armour on breakwaters, coasts, and marinas.
Officials say there is a need for raw materials while conservationists argue that the current quarries can provide whatever is necessary. Others speak of corruption and cronyism.
“Enough. We already have enough,” said Andreas Christodoulou, the head of the community of Neo Horio, on the Akamas peninsula.
Residents there are up in arms since an application had been submitted to open a quarry near the village.
The site of the proposed quarry is near the Petratis gorge, again an area of natural beauty which also houses fruit bats.
“Of course we oppose it. We don’t want it to come close to the boundaries of our community,” he told the Sunday Mail. Complaints have been lodged by the local council with both the EU and the minister of the interior.
Another pending application concerns yet another extension of the Androlikou quarrying zone.
A few years back, when an application was filed to extend the Androlikou quarry, the environmental impact study had failed to mention the presence of fruit bats in the proposed area.
The permit was granted and only when the blasting started did officials notice a cave. The attorney-general was consulted but he said he could not go back and prosecute.
So environmentalists and residents have every right to resist and be suspicious each time an application is filed.
More so when two other areas being considered for quarry zones are inside the Paphos forest, in Lysos and Panayia. Another is in Pareklishia, in the Limassol district, which seems to be the most suitable. Studies say a quarry in Pareklishia would have the smallest impact on the environment but it appears that government departments are pressing for Lysos and Panayia.
According to information posted on the website of the Mines Service, there are around 200 quarries across the island, producing various rocks and minerals used by industry. Forty-five, the service says, are at the final stages of exploitation and restoration of the area.
Erotokritos Anastasiades, the head of the Mines Service, says existing quarries cannot even cover half the needs.
“There is a big need for raw materials for sea projects,” he told the Sunday Mail, mainly marinas and shoring up the coast.
Paphos alone needs around 552,000 cubic metres of armour rock. Some 400,000 will be used to build a marina in the Peyia area. The rest will be used for breakwaters, and shoring up the coast.
The practice is to procure material from quarries within the district where the project is being constructed.
Conservationists argue that concrete tetrapods could be used for the marina instead, which of course would cost more. Bringing in raw materials from abroad, or even another district would also cost more.
However, according to a former minister, who was responding to an MP’s question, planning the project, selection of the material, including its procurement from sources inside or outside Cyprus, for the construction of a marina, are the responsibility of the investor.
Quarry licences are considered a privilege since the companies are given state land to work on.
So why then is the state trying so hard to secure the material for the marina?
“They will say you are obstructing development,” was Green party MP and former environment commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou’s response.
Environmentalists charge that the various governments simply take political decisions that are not based on technical or expert studies. And afterwards they scramble to secure land and materials.
And there was also another matter. By law, the area used for quarrying must be restored after extraction ends.
Theopemptou says in practice this is not the case. The companies that operate the quarries usually claim that they are still open to avoid spending money on restoring the area.
Ionna Panayiotou, the current environment commissioner, told MPs recently that they must look into improving the legal framework governing the operation of quarries.
Panayiotou said it would be better to draft new legislation from scratch rather than continue the practice of amending a law enacted when the island was under British rule.
Apart from the environmental and health problems caused by quarries, Panayiotou said there was also the ease by which quarrying zones were drawn.
The fact that it was also a ‘closed’ profession was also a problem, she said, recommending that other players must be allowed in.
Quarries and the dire effects they cause to the environment are not just limited to the government-controlled areas.
In the north, quarries are threatening the landscape of the Pentadaktylos mountains.
The Quarries Union in the north claimed recently that there had been a rapid rise in the number of quarries although no new permits had been granted.
Estimates of the number of quarries currently operating range between 17 and 36.
Reports suggest that over 50 per cent of the sand, stone, gypsum and other minerals extracted in the north has been sold to the south.
According to figures released by the European Commission, five per cent of the products traded under the Green Line regulation in 2015 were building materials and articles of stone. The data was provided by the Republic’s Customs and Excise Department.
So the war between conservationists and big business interests is set to continue. But how can you win in a country where in the minds of people, development means concrete and the raw materials to produce it?
In the words of the Neo Horio community leader: “If you ruin it you can’t fix it. We must all resist.”