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Agrigento today.

Agrigento today.

We’re disappointed and discouraged to learn, from The Independent today, that the Italian government has approved plans to build a gigantic liquid gas storage site less than a mile away from the famed World Heritage Site of Agrigento, the storied Valley of the Temples in Sicily.

Greek colonists from Gela colonized this part of Sicily in the 6th century B.C. and adorned it with seven monumental Doric temples. They are the best-preserved examples of ancient Greek architecture outside Greece. The spacious site is one of our favorite places to visit, and you can see why in the photo above.

How can this happen, you ask? Aren’t those UNESCO World Heritage Site designations supposed to protect, well, the world’s heritage from the depredations of the modern era? We suppose the lesson here is: don’t ever underestimate governments’ desires and bureaucratic malfeasance. The Italian government is merely ignoring the existence of the Heritage Site – because there are no people living there.

…a ruling signed into law on 28 September by the Environment Minister, Stefania Prestigiacomo, backed by the Culture Minister, Sandro Bondi, stated that the planned €500m plant “does not infringe on the special protected zone at a community level, inasmuch as the closest affected district is between 13 and 20km (8-12mi) from the area of the planned development.”

Thus, the Environmental Impact Assessment is clean: notwithstanding the fact that Agrigento’s entire economy is structured around tourist revenue from The Valley of the Temples. The present-day communities might be 8-12mi from the proposed gas plant, but its two holding tanks (each over 1,200,000 square feet and 154 feet high, plus a 130-foot-high flame tower), are located less than a mile from the archaeological site. There seems to be little doubt this plant would seriously damage the aesthetic appeal of a sacred site more than 2,500 years old.

According to The Independent article, the Mafia is especially powerful in the region, perhaps involved in the many illegal building developments that have crept ever closer to Agrigento, and it may well be greasing the wheels of the Italian government in this case. Luckily, the threat is so egregious that UNESCO and the European Union environment minister are actively investigating. Now the Mayor of Agrigento, Franco Zambuto, and the president of the park’s ruling body, Rosalia Camerata Scovazzo, have agreed to challenge the project “in every court in the land.”

They better. We are particularly alarmed by this situation. If you share our concern, please email EU Environment Minister Stavros Dimas: stavros.dimas@ec.europa.eu with your thoughts and your support.

The future view of Agrigento?

The future view of Agrigento?

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