Greece Starts to Pay Huge Toxic Waste Dump Fine

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 10, 2001 (ENS) - Greece has finally begun paying the first ever fine imposed by the European Union on one of its member states, an official of the European Commission's environment directorate told Members of the European Parliament in Brussels Tuesday.

The fine was imposed when the European Court of Justice ruled that Greece had not heeded an earlier judgement ordering it to comply with European Union waste regulations at a landfill site in Crete.

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Residents such as those in the Cretan village of Loutro strongly object to the polluting landfill. (Photos courtesy Chania-info.com)
The Court imposed daily fines on Greece for failing to implement two waste management directives, a decision that forces Athens to pay 20,000 euros (US$19,056) every day from July 4, 2000 until it complies with the laws. The fine is legally supported by the European Union's treaty based authority to fine member states that are condemned twice over the same legal breach.

Brought by the European Commission, the legal case against Greece centered on an unregulated rubbish dump in a ravine close to the mouth of Kouroupitos River 200 meters from the sea in the district of Chania, on the Greek island of Crete.

For several years the dump received refuse from the entire area, including military and medical waste. For over a decade waste burned continuously and uncontrollably due to its high organic content. The leachate and combustion products from the dump seeped into the sea nearby, and solid waste still enters the river at the site.

The first Commission action was brought after it received complaints from local municipalities about the dump in 1987. Though Greece said then that dumping would end in 1988, the Commission pursued the case until a first condemnation was delivered in 1992. The court rejected Greece's argument that its attempts to find alternative waste disposal sites had been frustrated by local resident opposition.

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Local residents object to the waste dump that pollutes the Mediterranean Sea near the Kouroupitos River. They want to preserve their pristine beachs, such as this one, Prevelis Beach, also in the Chania prefecture.
The court found that the local authorities were failing to ensure that waste was disposed of without endangering human health and harming the environment. The judges found that Greece had not drawn up waste and toxic waste disposal plans required under the directives, 19 years after this became a legal requirement following Greece's accession to the European Union in 1981.

Georges Kremlis of the environment directorate's legal unit told the European Parliament's Environment Committee Tuesday that Athens paid the first portion of its fine on December 22. The payment of 1.76 million euros represents three months of daily fines for non-compliance.

Just two weeks earlier the Commission had warned Greece it would withhold aid payments if no money was received before the end of the year.

Greece is being invoiced monthly - with payment of its bill currently in arrears by two months - until it complies with two 1970s waste treatment directives at the Kouroupitos waste dump, Kremlis said. A payment of 620,000 euros is expected today to cover October.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}