INDUSTRIAL REMNANTS
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Nature and the Bad Pollution
Stefanos Dodouras, PhD Sustainability consultant, Med-INA partner

The two sides of the same story... - Once upon a time... - At a meaningful glance...

The two sides of the same story..

The Ilarion dam in the Zidani area, Prefecture of Kozani, is one of the largest dams ever constructed on Aliakmon Rive in northwest Greece. The dam was named after the Monastery of Saint Trinity, located near the river banks, but it is widely known as the Monastery of Ilarion. The area is also known as “Lariou” –syncope of the word Ilarion– since the local people tend to slur those words most familiar to them, par-ticularly place-names.

In 1995, the Public Power Corporation (PPC) allegedly improved its investment schemes and as such the hydroelectric power plant of Ilarion was abandoned. To-day, the construction works have almost been completed and the power plant is ex-pected to operate in the next couple of years. For some, this was a much needed project that will benefit the greater area in many ways such as production of non-polluting energy, flood protection, enhanced water saving measures, ecological (mi-croclimate) protection and tourism benefits.
However, there is always the other side of the same story. Thus, for some others parochial politics and social expediency should never be allowed to have weight in the conservation and management of Western Makedonia’s natural heritage. It should be noted that the nearby Polyfytos hydroelectric power plant –which also op-erates in the area– covers only 0.8% of the annual energy consumption in Greece. Moreover, the artificial reservoir of the Ilarionas dam – the present total capacity of the reservoir is 1,220 m3– is likely to contribute to the stabilisation of the water level of the artificial Polyfytos Lake. It is worth mentioning though that after the comple-tion of the Polyfytos dam and the transformation of the river landscape into an artifi-cial lake, significant seismic activity in the Prefecture of Kozani had been observed, which led to the catastrophic earthquake on 13 May 1995 (6,6 scale Richter) with epicentre the basin Kozani-Servia, i.e. the Polyfytos Lake.

Once upon a time...
The Monastery of Ilarion was founded in the late 11th century, the era of emperor Komninos in Byzantium and shortly before the 4th Crusade. Also, the Monastery pro-vided important services to Greeks –shelter, protection, food and care– during their liberation struggle against the Ottoman Empire as well as during the Makedonian Wars. So, the Ilarion dam and power plant will promote the region’s historical heri-tage, leaving bulldozers, electric generators and heavy machinery as bygone remind-ers for the next generations.
Dam Hilarion, we will highlight the historical character of the area leaving the next generations of bulldozers, generators and other machinery to remind the Greek character of the place
Prior to the construction of the hydroelectric power plant, the visitors and the pil-grims could appreciate the particular architectural features of the Monastery of Ilarion –cells, stables, warehouses, Abbey– that harmoniously co-existed with the natural environment. Shortly after the commencement of the construction works, the Monastery was mysteriously destroyed by a fire, the reasons of which remain un-clear. The Ilarion dam and power plant will add to the sacredness of the area since the destroyed and deserted landscape will indeed become a place of meditation.

The local community’s financial support for the re-construction and repair works of the Monastery of Ilarion has been very significant. The monastery celebrates on the feast Holy Spirit Day and every year on that day large numbers of pilgrims visited Lariou. There was a mixture of colours, sounds and smells –i.e. “tamata” (a votive deposit used in the Eastern Orthodox Churches), local food and wines, traditional costumes, songs and dances– that connected the past with the present. Many are those who, having exceeded the age of 30, have memories of such days, in company of relatives and friends. Apparently, in the near future the Ilarion dam and power plant will contribute to the preservation of the area’s cultural heritage by creating a new “lunar” landscape.

The abandoned Asbestos Mines of Northern Greece (MABE)
can also be found in the area, near to the Monastery of Virgin Mary of Zidani and in close proximity to the Aliakmon River banks. Since 2000, when the MABE stopped operating, various inter-ventions, protection measures and restoration projects have been proposed. How-ever, it is still not clear to what extent MABE’s excavations for 18 years have affected the area’s aquifers, what will happen with the huge volume of deposits –approximately 70 million tons– that form enormous piles next to the river banks, and what mitigation measures have been proposed in order to effectively cope with the repeated phenomena of landslips and subsidence that lead to the release of asbestos fibres in the atmosphere.

Obviously, the Ilarion dam is the touch that was missing in order to complete the image of a majestic and picturesque landscape with mountains, forests, gorges and the small valley of Lariou. The region’s significant biodiversity was there for ages and naturally it is time for a change. The Ilarion dam and power plant along with the abandoned MABE will continue to provide companionship to those looking for spring getaways.

At a meaningful glance...

The different components of sustainable development are interdependent rather than contradictory. Over-insistence on the production of “black” (polluting) energy protects neither the natural environment nor the cultural heritage and of course it does not address several social concerns since it offers short-term solutions that lead to dangerous outcomes, i.e. climate change, air pollution, public health problems, etc. At a time when most of the EU Member States turn to renewable energy, Greece of sun and wind –i.e. solar and wind energy– insists on fossil fuels. However, the choice of “green” renewable energy does not necessarily mean the destruction of a region’s natural and cultural heritage.

The urgency for compromise between environmental objectives and the socio-cultural, economic and political targets of the modern society is imminent but the extent of its significance, it would seem, has not yet been fully realised. Multidiscipli-nary action is required for any complex real world situation but for it to function, im-proved communication and collaboration are essential parts of this process. Instead, inadequate and one-dimensional development schemes count for the ever growing degradation of the natural and cultural heritage.

New and important ideas have been documented and convincingly put forward. The natural environment is, by definition, a multifaceted and complex system and as such the lack of interdisciplinary communication and cooperation only serves rear-view interests. Thus, new directions of development, institutional rearrangements, policy reform, anticipated changes in production and consumption patterns, and in-creased participation from a broad range of disciplines have started to recognise that “one size does not fit all”. Yet, it is the political indifference that repeatedly creates environmental cul-de-sacs, the disciplinary narcissism that supports elusive interven-tions and the insufficient decision-making process that leads to a democratic deficit.

Additionally, modern society should assume its responsibilities since many individuals tend to be indifferent, tolerant and inactive, or support development models with apparent adverse sustainability impacts. Besides, it is easier to manipulate igno-rant and indifferent social masses. Yet, asking for increased public participation is not enough. Given that sustainable development requires the integration of different strands of knowledge, and that sustainability frameworks do not always reflect the complexity of real world situations, it follows that there is a need to create a flexible integrated process that will result in more efficient multidisciplinary communication and hence more informed decision-making processes.

Perhaps sustainable development is an adventurous voyage to a never-reached destination, i.e. an ambiguous goal rather than a measurable target. Sustainability problems rarely respect disciplinary boundaries and as such their different compo-nents cannot be examined in isolation. Sustainable development is a multidisciplinary concept and therefore there is a need to integrate often limited results obtained from different approaches. Such an integrated approach will not attempt to impose the views of the few but will act as a living structure that is constantly changing and growing.

sdodouras@med-ina.org

7/01/2010
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The Lariou Valley
The artificial Polyfytos Lake
The Ilarionas Dam
The artificial Polyfytos Lake and the construction works in the Ilarionas dam
: The Monastery of Saint Nikanor in Zavorda, Prefecture of Grevena. The Saint’s hermitage is also located in the area. The Ilarionas dam will alter the landscape’s characteristic features
Saint Nikanor hermitage next to the Aliakmon River
Pelicans next to PPC’s worksite, Aliakmon River
Local fishermen, “candidate” workers of PPC’s hydroelectric power plant