Turkish court rules against hydroelectric dam to protect sea otters, chamois

Turkish court rules against hydroelectric dam to protect sea otters, chamois

İdris Emen – ERZİNCAN
Turkish court rules against hydroelectric dam to protect sea otters, chamois

A court in the northeastern province of Erzincan has cancelled an environmental clearance for a hydroelectric (HES) dam planned for construction on the Tagar River.

The court’s decision was mostly based on the reason that the planned dam would have exceedingly restricted the area in which endangered sea otters and chamois are residing. The annulment is significant such that is it the first court ruling referring to the environmental damages a HES would have on sea otters and chamois.

The court’s decision came after a lawyer, Barış Yıldırım, filed against the construction of the HES on the river because of the “sociological and ecological damage the project would cause to the region and locals” despite the positive environmental impact assessment (EIA or ÇED in Turkish).

A HES project in Tunceli’s Çemişgezek district had received the EIA affirmative approval on Feb. 5, 2014. 

After a Tunceli local court rejected Yıldırım’s appeal against the project in 2015, the lawyer this time took the case to the Court of Cassation, which is the last instance for reviewing verdicts given by courts of criminal and civil justice.

Following the Court of Cassation’s ruling to reverse the local court’s judgment, an expert assessment was performed on April 2018. The expert’s report indicated that the region covering the Tagar River is of great importance to chamois and other wild animals.

The expert report also stated that the issued EIA report was inadequate such that it did not include the significance of the region under the influence area of the project for the wild animals.

When rejections were made to the expert report, an additional one was prepared, also — similarly as the first prepared report — highlighting the importance of the area for wild animals.

Sea otters living in the region are indicators of clean water systems, the second report declared.

Furthermore, the later issued report stressed that the sea otters are protected under the “strictly protected fauna species” list of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitat.

Following the expert reports, the Erzincan Administrative Court, which mainly deals with appeals against the decision of public authorities, annulled the EIA affirmative approval on the grounds that sea otters already will migrate from their habitat resulting from the disturbance caused by construction works, and therefore will face endangerment.

“Çemişgezek is one of the most unique places of Turkey with its cultural and natural heritage. There are 1,900 discovered plant species in the region. The court’s verdict is the only one emphasizing sea otters and mountain goats. It is precedential in that sense,” said Yıldırım, the attorney that filed the lawsuit.

Turkey, Erzincan, hydroelectric, environmental impact assesment, Judiciary