By Nikolaos Prakas and Tom Cleaver
Contractor Cyfield announced that it would be stopping all works on the road network in the Akamas peninsula as of Wednesday until all issues are settled, while the government was heavily criticised as “pathetic” for being unable to coordinate matters.
Speaking at the House environment committee, the founder of the company Kyriacos Chrysochos said that all works would stop, so that all problems could be overcome, and the project can be completed without further financial burdens.
The road works in environmentally sensitive Akamas have come under fire in recent weeks, with environmental organisations complaining of violations to the Akamas National Forest Plan.
The organisations had said that the roads had been widened more than what was foreseen in the plan, by 10 metres instead of six metres and unnecessary retaining walls had been built, amongst other violations.
On Tuesday the Environment Department and the Game Fund both officially acknowledged that that there had been violations, and this was after the audit service, who visited the area last week agreed.
However, they have been contradicted by other state agencies including the Forestry Department and interior minister.
On Wednesday, after announcing the complete stoppage in the works, Cyfield’s decision was welcomed by the members of the House committee and the other attendees, which included members of the agriculture ministry, the forestry department, the interior ministry and the environmental groups.
Speaking at the committee meeting, Agriculture and Environment Minister Petros Xenophontos said he had “expressed concerns” at a meeting held last Friday at the Athalassa environmental centre and added that he was “not satisfied with what I saw or heard”.
He went on to say that the freeze in work would be used “to consider the issue and re-evaluate the project, as well as other projects … in the area of Akamas”.
Additionally, he told the committee that he had ordered an investigation to be carried out by the ministry’s internal audit officer to establish whether or not a special ecological assessment had been prepared and submitted in the appropriate fashion.
The Cyprus Wildlife Society told the committee that the assessment was submitted in June.
Xenophontos explained that an ecological assessment is a binding document, and that therefore any provisions written into it must be incorporated into construction plans.
The investigation is expected to conclude on Friday.
After the meeting, Xenophontos said that President Nikos Christodoulides had also called for the works to stop, following images that surfaced showing the purported violations.
Environmental groups also expressed their concerns at the committee meeting, saying that the plans do not align with the legally binding conditions set out in the ecological assessment.
In addition, the Game Fund said the road was being built too wide, and that too many walls were being constructed along the way. They also called for the section of road between the villages of Avakas and Lipati not to be built.
They said that there should be a “complete re-evaluation and redesign” of the sections of road where construction has not yet begun.
Also present at the meeting and weighing in on the administrative investigation, auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides slammed the agriculture ministry’s choice of investigator, as the individual is an officer seconded from the forestry department, which had previously claimed there were no deviations in the works.
He added that also during his site visit to the area, aside from the road widening violations, there was also a new road created from Lara beach, which was also a violation.
Speaking after the session the deputy head of the committee, Akel MP Nikos Kettiros said what became clear during the meeting was “the lack of coordination between state services”.
“You could even say it was pathetic, as if it is not the same government and everyone is saying their own thing and blaming the other,” he said.
He added that some were saying they agreed with the plan, while others were then saying they had different opinions. He accused the government of not knowing “right from left”.
“The contractor came today, luckily by himself, and said he was stopping the works to facilitate the investigation, which we hope will end as soon as possible,” he said.
He added that they want a “simple thing” which is to secure the protection of the environment and the Akamas national forest park.
Committee chair and Green MP Charalambos Theopemptou expressed his “regret” over construction plans ignoring the ecological assessment.
“It is also sad that, despite the project being carried out in such an environmentally sensitive area, the Environmental Department has not appointed anyone to monitor its execution,” he added.
He said that as a result, “environmental organisations themselves have had to run around and monitor the project to see if it is being carried out properly.”
“We have a completely wrong process, a process which has caused a lot of damage to the area,” he added, before thanking Cyfield for stopping the works and saying “it is positive that the minister himself said there will be a re-evaluation of the whole matter.”