- Eight communes on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion are being investigated in what is developing into a pollution scandal on the popular tourist destination. For two of the mayors in charge, criminal prosecutions are being prepared for pollution and non-compliance with European Union standards for sewage treatment plants.
ccording to the local media 'Imaz Press', investigating magistrate Jean-Pierre Niel has placed the mayors of the communes Sainte-Marie and Sainte-Rose under criminal investigation after meeting with them. The mayors of six other Réunionaise towns suspected for pollution are to be heard throughout the week.
As legal entities, the mayors and their communes may all be placed under investigation for non-compliance with European Union (EU) sanitation and environment standards. They may face fines and orders to carry out works to clean up the environment, if found guilty.
So far, the hearings have established that the two communes are discharging their wastewater directly into the ocean. Sainte-Rose mayor Bruno Mamindy-Pajany told 'Imaz Press' he was recognising his commune's failure to comply with EU norms. "We recognise the facts; there is pollution. What we now want is that there is put forward funding to settle the problems of our sewage treatment plant," Mr Mamindy-Pajany added.
La Réunion is a French overseas department and thus an integrated part of the EU. The island, which is a major luxury tourism resort, as such is obliged to follow up on all EU directives, including those regarding environment standards. On the other hand, island authorities receive large-scale subsidies from both Paris and Brussels to enable French living standards and compliancy with EU standards.
Réunion mayors however claim they do not receive enough funding to comply with strict EU regulatives. The town of Sainte-Rose is estimated to lack euro 5.3 million to upgrade its sewage treatment plant, while Sainte-Marie is to spend euro 130 on a new sewage treatment plant, however still lacking some funds.
The Association of mayors of Réunion claims that an estimated euro 365 million are needed to lift all communes up to EU standards, saying this cost cannot be left to municipalities alone. The Association therefore protests the ongoing prosecution of Réunionaise mayors, holding the real problem is lack of funds.
The communes due to face criminal charges include Sainte-Marie, which hosts the island's main airport and is located just beside the capital Saint-Denis, which also is a major tourist destination. Other communes believed to disregard EU pollution standards include major tourist destinations such as Saint-Paul on the eastern coast, Saint-Benoit on the east coast and the capital, Saint-Denis. Popular tourist destinations at the south coast until now are not involved in the scandal.
Réunion has seen tourism develop into its main industry. The island, opting for up-market visitors, markets itself as a clean and paradise-like tropical island with European standards. Its vast beaches and coral reefs have an image of being clean and well preserved.
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