'Ecomonster' tamed: Environmentalists celebrate as unfinished hotel is demolished on Sicilian beach

20 year-battle to remove huge complex became ugly symbol of Italy's problem with illegal building 

Milan

Italy's environmentalists this week hailed a major victory in their battle with the abusive property constructors whose ugly buildings blight the country's coastline.

Campaigners cracked open the prosecco as the bulldozers were finally sent in to demolish the "Ecomonster" built on one of Sicily's most beautiful beaches at Scala dei Turchi near Agrigento.

In the 20 year-battle to have it removed the huge, unfinished hotel complex became an ugly symbol of Italy's problem with illegal building. 

Andrea Carandini, the president of the Italian Environment Fund, said:  "It's with great joy that we watch the demolition of the ecomonster at Scala dei Turchi. Finally there's concrete action to repair the degradation in line with obligations to the European Landscape Convention." 

The other national environmental group Legambiente, which first complained about the ecomonster at Scala dei Turchi, also hailed its "symbolic" demolition. The group first challenged the building's constructors in 1990, sparking a protracted legal battle, that left the 6000-cubic meter concrete shell blighting the beach for nearly 23 years.

Mimmo Fontana, the president of Legambiente's Sicilian arm said: "The real news is that the demolition marks a reversal. We are delighted not only because we've battled for so many years to return this wonderful beach to its natural beauty, but because what happened shows that slowly attitudes are finally changing." He said prosecutors and local authorities now appeared more willing to take on abusive developers.

But the organisation warned there were still thousands more illegal structures to be dealt with.

Hideous concrete monsters sprout up to despoil some of Italy's most beautiful coast and countryside with depressing regularity. In one victory of sorts, four people were arrested in 2011 in connection with the illegal construction of the eight-storey "ecomonster" at Sant'Agata in Puglia.

And last October another notorious ecomonster, in the Circeo national park in the Lazio region, was demolished after years of campaigning. 

But not all the abusive buildings are so large or attract so much attention. Legambiente said the illegal construction -- of mostly smaller properties -- was on the rise, with 26,500 built illicitly in 2010.

Illegal and shoddily constructed homes, using poor quality cement, are also a danger to their occupants - often being prone to collapse. This was the case with the student dormitory that subsided during the 2009 L'Acquila earthquake, killing eight students.

Since the beginning of June 2013, Legambiente has identified five new illegal constructions in restricted areas of natural beauty with high seismic risk.

Enrico Fontana, Legambiente's spokesman on environmental and organised crime said that as a result of constant abusive construction "parks and countryside and other places an area the size of 540 soccer pitches has been stolen" was stolen in 2010 alone.

Legambiente recently issued three key demands to deal with the blight of ecomonsters on Italy's coastlines and elsewhere.

It is calling for the demolition  -- at the owner's expense  -- of abusive  buildings; closer satellite monitoring of the worse affected areas; and the creation of a special police task force to deal withthe problem.

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