Construction on Istanbul's third airport continuing despite court’s suspension

Construction on Istanbul's third airport continuing despite court’s suspension

Construction on Istanbuls third airport continuing despite court’s suspension

Istanbul's third airport is planned to be build in a forested area on the European side of the city, near the Black Sea coast. The project has stirred great controversy due to the large amount of trees that will be cut down for the construction. HÜRRİYET photo

An Istanbul court has suspended the environmental approval given for Istanbul’s highly controversial third airport, but the authorities say construction is going ahead as planned.

Istanbul’s Fourth Administrative Court has ordered a stay of execution of the Environmental Impact Assessment (ÇED) report issued by the Environment Ministry after taking into consideration objections from four citizens residing in nearby districts who filed a lawsuit.

Although the report is legally obligatory to obtaining the green light for such infrastructure projects, Transport Minister Lütfi Elvan said the suspension was temporary and that it would not interfere with construction of the airport.

“This was a decision only for a temporary suspension pending the environmental impact approval report. In no way will it affect the construction of the airport,” he told reporters.

The third airport project, which is being built in a forested area of northern Istanbul close to the city’s last reservoirs, was awarded to a consortium of five Turkish companies – Cengiz, Kolin, Limak, Mapa and Kalyon – in a tender held on May 3, 2013, for 22.1 billion euros.

The court ruled that the tender was conducted before the termination of the 10-day legal period allowed for public objections following the release of the ÇED report. The ruling mandates the suspension of all physical operations on the airport’s earmarked land pending a contrary decision so as to allow specialists to review the extent of the environmental risks of the project.

However, the General Directorate of the State Airports Authority (DHMİ) announced that the construction operations were continuing.“This decision’s stopping of the work and procedures taking place according to the contract inked on May 3, 2013, as a result of the tender for a new Istanbul airport is not at issue, and the process is going on as planned,” a written statement released by the authority claimed Feb. 11.

Environment Minister İdirs Güllüce, meanwhile, said no documents have been sent to the ministry yet, avoiding to make any further comment.

The government aims to complete the first stage of the four-phase project in 2016 and hopes to make it fully operational in 2018.

At least 10 months delay

Although the ministry has the right to object to the court’s decision, analysts and sector sources said the ruling would mean a delay of at least 10 months to one year for the construction of the project. The chances of finishing on schedule are diminishing as the site delivery for the project has also not been completed.

The DHMİ should have delivered the site within 30 days after the winning consortium signed an implementation report on Nov. 19, 2013, but problems with mines still operating on the land and with the owners of the land, which should have been expropriated, have caused major setbacks for progress.

Officials close to the matter said the decision was not expected to have a financial impact on the winning consortium as the project had not reached the construction stage. “At this stage, when the project has not been approved yet and the ÇED process has not been completed, it is impossible for the project to find foreign financing,” a source told Reuters, but noting that the consortium’s talks with local banks for a $2 billion to 2.5 billion first fund package had reached an advanced point.

Questions over the course of the project were also raised when the executives of the winning companies were said to be among the 41 suspects of the second wave of the corruption probe.Limak chair Nihat Özdemir, Kalyon executives Orhan Cemal Kalyoncu and Ömer Faruk Kalyoncu, and board member of Kolin Celal Koloğlu were among those facing bribery and corruption charges.

However, the second investigation never materialized. The probe surfaced in a controversial way after the prosecutor in charge, Muammer Akkaş, publicly announced that he had been removed from the case, while also revealing that his arrest orders had not been carried out by security forces despite court warrants. As the area where the new airport is slated to be built is one of the greenest parts of Istanbul, which suffers from high pollution risks stemming from over-urbanization, the project has infuriated a large section of the public. The suspended ÇED report said the total number of trees in the area was slightly above 2.5 million and that around 658,000 of them would need to be cut, while almost 1.9 million of the trees would be moved to a new place.