Ruling on power plant project in Soma olive grove 'leaked to company'
Villagers and local activists plant new olive trees at the plantation where Kolin destroyed more than 6,000 trees. DHA PhotoKolin İnşaat, the energy firm that felled around 5,000 olive trees in the Aegean village of Yırca last week for the construction of a planned coal power plant, was aware of a Council of State decision halting the project two days before its announcement, a deputy from Turkey’s main opposition has claimed.
Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Özgür Özel told daily Taraf on Nov. 9 that Kolin İnşaat was informed about the Council of State’s decision to stop the execution of the coal power plant construction two days ahead of its official announcement. Özel said Kolin İnşaat officials moved to cut the trees before the decision to halt the project was publicly announced, felling around 5,000 olive trees overnight despite attempts by local villagers to stop them.
The Kolin Group, one of Turkey’s largest conglomerates, uprooted the trees on Nov. 7 to make room for a coal power plant in the Soma district of Manisa province, where locals had been guarding the grove for more than 52 days.
Clashes erupted after security guards for the company tried to remove the protesting villagers from the olive grove.
The guards dragged some of the villagers several meters away, forced them onto a truck and locked them inside a hut four kilometers away from the construction site. One of the villagers suffered a head injury from a tear gas canister fired by a security guard.
Television footage later showed the Yırca village headman Mustafa Akın weeping live on air and elderly women hugging the trees that were set to be cut down. “Those trees were my children,” an 80-year-old woman was quoted as saying.
Just hours after the confrontation, Turkey’s Council of State threw out a decision permitting Kolin İnşaat, which is known for its closeness to the government, to seize control of the grove. But it was too late, as the company had already uprooted thousands of trees.
Özel told Taraf that he would file a complaint about the sixth department of the Council of State for the leak of its decision to the firm, and also for taking 18 days to reach “such a critical decision.”
Meanwhile, the Chamber of Environmental Engineers has said it will file a suit demanding the cancelation of an environmental assessment report in the area that allowed the construction of the coal plant in Yırca despite the fact that thousands of trees would be cut in the process.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş also defended the villagers, saying “the environment cannot be left in the hands of the wild capitalism” and stressing that a way must be found to balance environmental protection and national development.
“We need power plants. But it is difficult to grow olive trees [at the same time]. We must find a path between the environment and development,” Kurtulmuş told daily Hürriyet.
A group of young activists visited Yırca on Nov. 8 and helped them plant new olive trees in the same area. The area had been blocked off by the company with barbed wire, but villages removed the wires using tractors, citing the Council of State ruling.