Istanbul airport contractor gets new setback on coal plant project

Istanbul airport contractor gets new setback on coal plant project

Istanbul airport contractor gets new setback on coal plant project

Greenpeace activists are seen during a protest against the coal plant in Karabiga on Nov. 22. DHA Photo

Cengiz Construction is facing its second setback in a week after its project to build a coal plant on the shore of the Marmara Sea was suspended by a local administrative court, on the grounds that the assessment regarding the environmental impact of the facility was inadequate.

One of the five companies in the winning consortium for Istanbul’s controversial third bridge, a mining company owned by the group, Eti Bakır, was also stopped last week from extracting copper in a preserved natural area in the eastern Black Sea.

Both investments prompted a huge reaction, with locals stressing that officials were ignoring the potential damage to the environment in allowing them to proceed.

The $2 billion dollar plant, set to be built near Karabiga in Çanakkale by Cengiz and its partner Cenal Electric, raised particular concern about its impact on the natural habitat of loggerhead turtles and Mediterranean seals, two endangered species whose sanctuaries along the Turkish coast are diminishing due to an insatiable construction frenzy.

The methods used by Cengiz Construction to overcome a possible judicial setback also raised eyebrows. The group divided the plant project into four and prepared separate environmental impact assessment reports (ÇED) for each facility. Local activists launched lawsuits after the Environment Ministry approved the reports, arguing that key elements such as the protection of endangered species had been overlooked.

But the administrative court of Çanakkale rejected all the assessment reports, stressing that assessing parts of the projects separately made it difficult to make an assessment regarding the project in its entirety. It also ruled that the method was contrary to the legislation imposing environmental obligations on companies.

New legal battle on the way

The court’s move is not likely to be the last round of the legal battle, however, as Cengiz Construction’s partner, Cenal, has submitted a fresh assessment report that was approved at the end of September by the Environment Ministry.

Just like the other four companies that won the multi-billion dollar tender for Istanbul’s third airport, Cengiz Holding is also known for its close ties to the government. An assets injunctions imposed on the company’s owner, Mehmet Cengiz, as part of an aborted corruption probe – also known as the Dec. 25 process – was removed after massive purges within the judiciary effectively quashed the allegations into staggering amounts of graft.

The ruling comes as the Environment Ministry further facilitated companies’ obligations and hailed the rush to pave more concrete and extract more fossil fuels by exempting a myriad of projects from being subjected to the mandatory environmental impact assessment process.

Thousands of trees are being clear-cut, while a number of reservoirs that provide water to the overcrowded city are being drained, to make way for the controversial third Istanbul airport.