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Construction in Turkey begs question: Bolu green belt or white hotel lie?

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 4/16/2010 12:00:00 AM |

The popular Lake Abant recreation area has become a muddy battleground as a newspaper investigation accuses the local government of giving the land over to tourism development under the guise of doing infrastructure work in the area. Bolu Gov Halil İbrahim Akpınar says there will be 'not a single factor to harm the environment.' Others disagree

Construction vehicles that have joined boars, bears and deer as inhabitants of Abant Natural Park in recent weeks have come not to improve the local infrastructure, but to build tourism facilities, daily Hürriyet reported Friday.

The popular nature and recreation area in the northern Turkish province of Bolu, which includes a 1.28-square-kilometer freshwater lake, is being sacrificed to construct a hotel with the cooperation of the Culture and Tourism Ministry and the Provincial Directorate of Environment and Forests, the paper’s investigation concluded.

Roadwork in the area had previously been reported to be a prelude to raising electrical lines, installing a new sewer system and building pathways for pedestrians and bicycles, among other necessary infrastructure projects.

Bolu Gov. Halil İbrahim Akpınar denied Hürriyet’s allegations on live television Friday, saying that the paper had mixed up an unrelated hotel construction project with the work going on in the Lake Abant area.

“The area of the hotel construction is outside the Abant cultural protection area,” Akpınar said, noting that it is legally impossible to construct a new building within the protected area.

The governor also commented on the roadwork in progress in the Abant area. “The power lines will be transferred underground as the project continues and sewers will be built,” he said. “There will not be a single factor to harm the environment when the work is finished.”

[HH] Environmentalists oppose the plan

Some environmentalists and forestry workers questioned the governor’s statement, with a Green Party of Turkey official saying that cutting trees in the area is detrimental to the ecosystem even if the work is technically being done outside the park’s bounds.

“Rare natural habitats should not be opened to settlement more than they already are,” Ümit Şahin, a member of the central ruling board of the Green Party of Turkey, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “There are hotels in Abant already. Work that would transform the site into a tourism area and destroy the natural life should not be done.”

Şahin said conducting such work undercover, in such a way that journalists would need to expose it, shows the project cannot be justified. “If there is such a thing [going on], the environmental foundations, the universities – they all should have noticed, especially those in Bolu.”

A spokesman for the Chamber of Forest Engineers told the Daily News that the group would send a team, led by President Muhammet Saçma, to Abant this weekend to look into the matter and prepare a report.

[HH] Hürriyet’s investigation

Hürriyet based its claim on a series of documents, starting with a letter sent Jan. 20 from the Culture and Tourism Ministry to the Bolu Governor’s Office. Signed by Deputy Director A. Sedat on behalf of the minister, the letter states that the ministry will start re-evaluating the area’s tourism potential after it is informed by the Governor’s Office of the results of the modifications requested in the “Abant Lake and Its Immediate Surroundings Rearrangement Plan.”

On March 2, the Governor’s Office sent a letter to the Provincial Directorate of Environment and Forests, signed by Secretary-General Tahsin Akduman on behalf of the governor that focused on the “Tourism Center and Tourism Facility Area.”

According to the letter, the areas planned to be converted into a tourism center fall within the boundaries of Abant Natural Park. In order for the facilities to be constructed and access established through the park, the letter said, modifications would need to be made to both the plan for immediate surroundings and the area’s long-term development plan – both of which require permission from the Culture and Tourism Ministry.

The Governor’s Office also included a plan of the proposed hotel location in its correspondence. According to this plan, nine hectares of land have been allocated to build the hotel on a hill above the lake’s south shore, a spot with a panoramic view of the entire landscape. An additional 75-hectare property, this one with a panoramic view of an artificial lake known as Baby Abant, will also be used as a site for a tourism center.

[HH] Zonguldak deputy, engineers chamber demand answers

Calling the proposed construction an “environmental massacre,” Republican Peoples’ Party, or CHP, Zonguldak deputy Ali İhsan Köktürk submitted a parliamentary question on the matter, requesting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally supply a written answer.

Salih Sönmezışık, the ex-chair of the Forest Engineers’ Chamber, meanwhile filed a complaint at the Bolu Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, arguing that the construction work carried out in Abant Natural Park is a crime under the Law for National Parks. He requested that those responsible for the destruction be prosecuted.

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