Rubbish tip threatens to spoil Umbrian beauty spot

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The Independent Online

One of the most beautiful valleys in Umbria, home to dozens of Britons and other expatriates, could be sacrificed to create central Italy's biggest rubbish tip.

Italian, British, US and Danish residents will meet today in the town of Citta di Castello to demand an end to a plan they claim is illegal and was foisted on them in secret. The dump at Belladanza began life accidentally when proposals to build the first "superhighway" through Umbria brought an urgent demand for sand.

A quarry was dug a few minutes' drive from Citta di Castello. Once the road was finished and the sand hauled away, locals began throwing rubbish, including toxic waste, into the gaping hole.

In 1988, planning officials addressed the problem and gave the landfill site a life of 20 years, after which it was supposed to be closed and reclaimed. Relieved residents expected an ugly chapter in the valley's history to have a happy ending.

Foreign families looking for holiday or retirement homes began beating a path to Umbria's placid valleys with their ancient towns and unspoiled woodlands. "They began moving in and have all been living very happily on this hillside," said Sara Covelli, whose Anglo-Italian parents moved there 10 years ago. "There was the rubbish dump but it was was small and seemed to be well-run – and it was always expected to be closing."

Paolo Fusi, a journalist involved in the campaign, added: "Many foreigners came to live on the hill that is going to be sliced away to make the expanded dump.

"The mayor told them the dump would close in 2009 – but that was a lie. Now we know that as long ago as 2005 he supported the idea of expanding the site."

The expansion plan was uncovered only when an observant resident noticed a bulldozer at work where none had worked before.

The proposal is to widen the original landfill, which has a capacity of 650,000 tons, by slicing away an adjacent hill and increasing capacity to 2.2 million tons. Sogepu, a company created to run the site, stands to make tens of millions of euros. Apart from the noise and smell, the environmental consequences of the expansion are unknown because no impact study has been undertaken. The original site has been problematic since the 1990s, with toxic waste finding its way into a river and poisoning wells.

"The expanded site has been given the green light but the authorities haven't even begun to apply for the required legal approvals," added Mr Fusi.