By Manolis Androulakakis, lawyer
I would like to add my own speculations to the discussion on the creation of the Timbaki international port. As announced by the relevant ministries and according to the memoranda of cooperation already signed, a huge container transhipment station is shortly to be constructed at Timbaki, along with the necessary technical, commercial and supply supporting infrastructure. The effects of the creation of this port on the future of Timbaki and the wider Bay of Messara must be questioned, especially in view of the upcoming election of local authorities, who will be asked to deal with this issue.
Messara is an area of outstanding natural beauty, with a rich history and many important archaeological sites. The fact that it has not been the victim of tourist development over the past few decades, unlike the north coast of our island, is a boon. With a very few exceptions the Bay of Messara has remained unspoilt, as opposed to those “developed” tourist resorts that have sacrificed their natural beauty on the altar of quick profit and chaotic construction. Messara has been the victim of a different kind of development – greenhouses. The cultivation of top-quality early vegetables has boosted the local economy in recent decades. Unfortunately, however, the search for greater profits, combined with the drop in farmers’ income, has led to over-cultivation and unreasoning waste of natural resources. As a result, today the water table, the soil quality and even the inhabitants’ health are all threatened by the use of pesticides.
Just as the first steps were being taken in the direction of organic farming, offering new opportunities to local farmers, the new initiative for the construction of an international port suddenly came out of the blue. The local authorities welcomed the representatives of massive Chinese and Korean companies with open arms, as saviours of the local economy. Now that the first enthusiasm has died down, though, we should consider just what kind of “development” such an investment has to offer and whether we can consent to it.
The main argument used by the supporters of the new port is local economic development. The public purse will certainly profit from the remunerative agreements it will make. There will also be gains for the over-contractors who undertake the construction of the port and the companies that will manage it. But where is the profit for the inhabitant of Messara and Crete in general? Will there be reasonably well-paid jobs? How, when at least half the employees will be Chinese? Will there be privileged and less privileged workers, or will those seeking work at Timbaki port face Chinese work conditions and rates of pay? Some enterprises will presumably be set up to serve the port workers, but how many will they be and how many people will they employ? A closed transhipment port will only employ a small number of people who will have little contact with the local economy. And at what price will the huge areas needed for the construction of the port be sold off? Will the property be purchased through State expropriation at knock-down prices? Furthermore, once the port is built, tourism in the Messara will be no more than a distant memory…
Apart from economic considerations, however, we should also think about the quality of life we will bequeath to our children. Our province is blessed by being untouched by mass tourism, preserving the values and morals of an earlier time. Are we to turn it into an industrial zone, destroying the natural environment which has remained the same since Minoan times? What mayor or minister will put his signature to the death warrant of Messara? Who would want Timbaki and the neighbouring municipalities to become the Elefsina* of Crete? The inhabitants’ economic problems are certainly great, but it is doubtful if they will be solved through the construction of the port. Timbaki Municipality may be offered large financial incentives, but what counts is the inhabitants’ quality of life. Let’s look beyond the short-term profits and consider the long-term evils for our land. We must not let Timbaki become another Ano Liosia**, a profitable rubbish dump, which will however be permanent and irretrievably destroy the natural landscape. We have fought so hard to prevent the construction of a new landfill site in the Timbaki area; will we now fling open the gates to something so much worse?
Let the local inhabitants consider these issues and decide the future of their land for themselves. There must be discussion in the local media and the election campaign, so that prospective mayors and prefects can make their positions clear. Let those of us who feel this port is a threat to our home unite to rouse the local community as far as possible, so that our children can grow up in the Messara we know and love, rather than a nightmarish Chinese superport which will change the face of the countryside and lower our quality of life.
*. Elefsina is a historical coastal town, near Athens, which nowadays hosts huge refineries and shipyards. It suffers great pollution and unemployment.
**. Ano Liosia is a municipality of northern Athens, which hosts the major dump of Athens.