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Environmentalists dealt strong card to play against hydro plants

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 2/2/2010 12:00:00 AM |

A court has halted the construction of a hydro plant on a stream in the Black Sea region, using reasoning that might prove influential in deciding future cases.

A court has halted the construction of a hydro plant on a stream in Turkey’s Black Sea region, using reasoning that might prove influential in deciding future cases on the same issue.

Although the court has not yet released its final decision, its reasons cited for the stay of execution criticize the Environment Ministry’s policies on hydro-plant construction and refer to environmental protection as a constitutional right, experts said.

The local court in the Black Sea province of Rize has ruled that watershed planning is a requirement for permitting the construction of a hydro plant.

Such planning should include the opinions of locals, nongovernmental organizations, experts and authorities, Güven Eken, the head of Doğa Derneği (Nature Association), said at a press conference in Istanbul on Tuesday.

Locals have filed a complaint against the construction of a hydro plant on the Abu-Çağlayan Stream located in the Paşalar Valley of Rize’s Fındıklı district, which is an area that was previously approved for protection as a natural area. Their lawyers also objected to an impact report that said there was no obstacle to the hydro-plant’s construction.

Lawyer Yakup Okumuşoğlu called the court’s reasoning exemplary and said it serves as a warning to the Environment and Forest Ministry, which he said has not been accomplishing its duty to make watershed plans before allowing hydro plants.

However, there is no regulation in Turkish law on how to make a watershed plan, Okumuşoğlu said, adding that a regulation could be introduced or a new water law created to fill this legal gap.

Although the court has not yet given its final decision, Okumuşoğlu said its reason is significant in explaining the insufficiencies of the procedures taken by the Environment Ministry and the lack of consulting locals’ opinions on hydro-plant construction cases.

“The court criticized the ministry for making impact plans without any up-to-date information from the concerned area,” he said. The lawyer added that the court had said impact reports should not be made based only on data provided by the companies that want to build the power plants, but by gathering real, concrete information from the area through local authorities.

Lawyer Münir Yazıcı, a complainant in another case in Rize, said the court’s reasoning referred to the 56th article of the Constitution, which says that everyone has the right to live in a healthy and balanced environment, that protecting and improving the environment is both the state’s and the citizens’ duty. According to Yazıcı, these implications to the Constitution will allow plaintiffs to use the “right to a healthy environment” as an argument in future cases.

More than 1,600 hydro plants are currently planned in Turkey, according to local activist Mevlüt Gürkan. “When they started building hydroelectric power plants, they cheated locals, saying there will be only one plant on one stream,” said Gürkan, who is active in a platform established to protect the Fındıklı streams of Rize. “Today, there are many plant constructions and future plans, but as people of the Fındıklı streams, we will not let them be constructed.”

The court’s reasoning is expected to tip the balance in the ongoing struggle between environmentalists and hydropower companies in favor of the former. Locals used to file separate complaints against hydro plants constructed in a single valley or on a single stream, but this is likely to change due to the call for watershed planning, Okumuşoğlu said, adding that “a single court case might be opened for all hydro-plant projects that are going to be built on a single stream or valley.”

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