Environmentalists and owner fight over future of Akamas quarry

A fierce debate over the future of the Androlykou quarry zone could end up crippling the entire development industry, with operators of the quarries threatening to close shop and halt all sales island wide.

Environmentalists have also sounded the alarm and are stressing that the three-year freeze on the expansion of the quarry zone must not be wasted.

“We can’t wait until it’s just two months before a decision must be taken and then start the process of looking for alternatives, this is urgent and we must do it now,” Lefkios Sergides, executive director of environmentalist group Terra Cypria, told the Cyprus Mail.

At the other end: Antonis Latouros, head of the Aggregates Producers Association, told the Cyprus Mail that the project is necessary and the question is simple: “Do we want development or not?”

“Unless we all decide to start living in tents then we need the quarry, there’s really no other way to put it,” he said.

The association has threatened ‘dynamic measures’ unless action is taken by September 16.

The issue burst to the fore in late August when the environment department issued its opinion on the impact assessment of the Akamas local plan.

That saw the proposal to extend the Androlykou quarry being blocked – temporarily, at least, as it is up for review after three years.

During the three-year freeze, one of the burning questions which will have to be answered is whether there are any alternatives.

Latouros says that there is – but there’s a catch: It’s in the Paphos forest.

“You’ve asked about alternative sites, well unfortunately Paphos is poor in such materials – the only other feasible site, really, is in the Paphos forest,” he told us.

He recalls that studies sponsored by the government back in 2007 looked at the area, but it never came to fruition because, among other things, there were concerns over the eagles’ habitat.

Lysos and Panayia were viewed as potential sites.

“Over here it’s a bat, over there it’s a bird, the next place it’s a frog – there will always be an impact,” he argues.

Indeed, the Androlykou zone has been identified as particularly sensitive – as Sergides points to species such as the fruit bat – officially Rusettus aegyptiacus, or Nihtopapparos as it is known locally.

He says that caves near the quarries were previously home to the bats but they have since departed, highlighting the impact of the works on its surrounding.

That has sparked alarm amongst conservationists, but Latouros says “these animals aren’t going to disappear, if they no longer like the area they’ll just move on elsewhere”.

Others may argue, however, that there may not be an “elsewhere”.

The caves and gorges of Akamas received repeated mention in the environment department’s report as they emphasised that they are crucial for the diverse range of species which they house, and also for the distinct character of the area.

Latouros insists, however, that the Androlykou quarry is necessary.

“There’s a reason why we’re digging in Androlykou and that’s because it’s where the materials are, it just so happens to be in a Natura 2000 area – we can’t just dig anywhere, it depends on where the materials are located,” he said.

Latouros said that the Androlykou quarry zone saw operations begin about 20 years ago and includes three quarries. One of them was depleted about 18 months ago and another only has two to three months left. The third, he said, has about three million tonnes.

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He emphasised, however, that the latest government data show that Paphos consumes about 800,000 to one million tonnes annually “and that’s without the major upcoming work of the Paphos-Polis highway”.

Latouros said that even if the Androlykou zone is expanded it would only fulfil the district’s need for ten to 15 years – “after that we’ll have to reopen this discussion all over again”.

But aren’t there other alternatives to quarrying in Paphos?

The practice is to procure material from quarries within the district where the project is being constructed – one reason being that bringing in raw materials from abroad, or even another district would cost more.

Latouros points to other complications such as increased emissions should goods be transported across greater distances, while also compounding traffic on the roads.

“Let’s say we have to transport the one million tonnes, well each truck can deliver maximum 30 tonnes – so what, you’re going to put all those thousands of trucks along the highways?” he argued.

“In any case, let’s say we fulfil Paphos’ needs from other quarries – primarily in Limassol and Nicosia – won’t that just deplete their resources faster?” Latouros asked.

Sergides acknowledged the challenges, and the need for resources for projects, but sought to highlight that the extension of Androlykou’s quarrying would pit the government against the EU.

“The fact that it would harm the birds and bats is a given – therefore, it would have caused trouble,” he said, pointing to restrictions such as the EU Birds Directive.

Sergides explained that there is some leeway if there are no alternative solutions.

“But you have to justify imperative reasons of public interest to proceed with such a project, and it would be very difficult to convince the European Commission that there truly are no alternatives sites for this type of material,” Sergides said.

Latouros argued that the government should declare a quarry in the Paphos forest to be of public interest.

That was the case for major projects such as the Paphos-Polis highway and the Ayia Napa marina.

But it’s proven controversial, and the government faces accusations of being too trigger happy with such a blunt tool.

For Sergides, there are other ways to alleviate the pressures on the economy – arguing that much more must be done in reusing materials, rather than completely relying on extracting resources from the land.

Androlykou’s fascinating history has earned it a mythical status, but tucked away in rural Paphos and largely out of sight means that for many it’s a convenient place for a quarry.

Drive through and you’ll see a handful of renovated houses, the rest inhabited by goats – by far the village’s largest population.

And unless a future extension eats into their grazing grounds, the goats appear unfazed at all the fuss.