Paros Airport, where do we stand?

PM Mitsotakis, in his recent speech on June 23 before the SETE (Hellenic Association of tourism enterprises) expressed his engagement for sustainable tourism, combining economic growth with environmental sustainability goals. He stressed the need to promote the quality side of the Greek experience and the natural beauty of its islands rather than the quantity (“to get rid of the tyranny of the number of arrivals” (sic). This approach, the only compatible with environmental protection in Greece and EU/worldwide, is shared by most enlightened observers (see A. Papachelas’ –editor in chief of Kathimerini- main article of June 30), following the impact of mass (or “all-inclusive”) tourism on the local environment, societies and economies in the regions that have tried it (either on the Spanish coast or on Santorini/Mykonos).

Contrary to the a.m. governmental policy, the projected extension of the Paros airport and the ongoing tendering procedure looks dangerously harmful. It is worth noting that the present airport, after the closure of the adjacent smaller one in Alyki, opened only in 2016 (with a 1400 m runway) allowing large size turbo-propeller planes to connect the island with the mainland (Athens or even Thessaloniki) several times per day, satisfying thereby the needs of the local population to access the capital for health, educational and social purposes; only occasionally are there some jet flights from abroad (a.o. Austria). However, since recently the competent Ministry decided to convert it into a fully international airport, with a runway of 1800m that will easily come close to 2000m, if one counts the zones for planes added on both sides of the main runway, allowing, thus, even bigger and more polluting jet aircraft to land. Moreover, a multiplication of the built surface (from 750 to 12.000 sq.m.), that will comprise large “duty free shops” is foreseen. This is supposed to be an important qualitative “leap forward” compared with the existing situation.

It is worth emphasizing that, the authorization process during 2019 and 2020 for the extension of the Airport has not been undertaken in accordance with the Greek and European law, not only because the population concerned has not been really consulted, but more fundamentally because the environmental impact assessment there does not flag any defined objective for the project so that it is hard to assess what is the public interest it aims at. In absence of a specific aim, the need for it (a further increase of the number of visitors?) was taken arbitrarily for granted and no alternatives to it have been examined. The public interest pursued with the project is thus hard to identify.

Worse, the project is liable not only to affect the quality of life in the neighbouring properties, because of the ill assessed noise and emissions nuisances, but it will also severely downgrade the global environment of Paros and damage irreversibly its attractiveness. And it is not just the wildlife that is threatened. Paros (and Antiparos, likewise) is already overcrowded during the summer period, as one can easily see when visiting the island. Almost 1 million arrivals per year, among which more than 90.000 per plane in 2018, a number that has already increased in 2019 and is due to double in one decade! Projections in the study showed further increase, but are, according to the study itself, already overtaken by the facts: the number of arrivals is increasing more rapidly than foreseen. Following this pace and with a bigger airport, the number of visitors will increase exponentially in the next decade. Is there that Paros is heading to with its new airport that will operate 24h/7days? How will the island keep pace with such a development and hundreds of thousands of additional tourists?

The PM said last week that in the case of saturated destinations some difficult decisions have to be taken, in order for tourism to remain environmentally friendly. This seems to be the case of Paros and Antiparos, where besides accommodation becoming rare in summer, waste management, sewage, water supply/irrigation facilities and traffic conditions are largely insufficient, let alone the health care. There is nothing in the impact assessment study on all these issues, and one can easily expect –to say the least- even more waste, scarce water supply, traffic jams around the island in the years to come. Bringing more tourists to Paros won’t serve any other purpose than deforming and defaming the island, which will fall victim to its own reputation and beauty.

Additionally, this project is contrary to the territorial planning in force, which does not foresee such an airport, since the same Cyclades department has already 2 fully international airports on Myconos and Santorini, which have been expanded to receive a 50% higher traffic (let alone the one of Naxos), which suffer from suffocation and have become unlivable for the locals.

Interestingly, the main source of financing of the project (43 million) will allegedly be ensured by the EC  ‘Transport Infrastructure, Environment and Sustainable Development OP’ funding 2014-2020, aiming at ‘promoting climate change adaptation, risk prevention and management, preserving and protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency, promoting sustainable transport and removing bottlenecks in key network infrastructures’ emphasizing “on road and rail” with only “ focused interventions on ports and airports”.  No mention there, however, of any airport extension, and for a good reason. Following the Paris Agreement on climate change, Greece and EC are committed to freezing carbon emissions from aviation to the 2020 level in the future, and – put simply- to compensate any increase of carbon emissions from flights, with emission reductions in other activities – with a view on reducing transport emissions by 90% by 2050 (compared to 1990-levels). Obviously, increase fossil-fueled air traffic to and from Paros conflicts with these commitments and will require additional sustainability efforts to be borne by others – if any can be made at all, an aspect completely disregarded in the environmental permit of the airport extension which should fall under the Green Deal.

In conclusion, while acknowledging that the current airport facilities are suboptimal and therefore could be upgraded, the extension of the airport capacities to accommodate large turbojet planes for international flights will certainly lead to a dramatic historical mistake, a significant waste of public money that will severely impact the environment of Paros and the sustainability of its tourism.

And a final note: the project should not be seen in isolation, but rather in combination with the accompanying project of a second harbour in Piso Livadi. This so-called “commercial” harbour, allegedly aiming at freeing the capacity of the main harbour in Parikia, is however also going to serve sea links with Naxos and the Small Cyclades (Koufonissia etc.). This shows that Paros is, according to some central planning, about to become a “hub” for foreign tourists, who will just land there in order to reach afterwards other, less crowded, destinations. This fate has been well concealed from the local population, who may be happy to become somehow the “centre of the world”, not being aware of the price they will have to pay for this “development” in the long run and no matter what that really means for them and for their island…

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