Locals come to the rescue of sea otters halting unlawful hydro plant construction

Locals come to the rescue of sea otters halting unlawful hydro plant construction

Locals come to the rescue of sea otters halting unlawful hydro plant construction

Sea otters inhabiting the Bolaman valley have been saved, but many construction projects are still being approved across Turkey regardless of the damage they cause to species in natural areas.

Sea otters living on the Bolaman River near Fatsa off the Black Sea coast will be heaving a sigh of relief, as the construction of a hydroelectric power plant (HES) on the Şahsen River was halted on Aug. 19 with a decision by the district prefecture following locals's protests.  

Gendarmerie teams were dispatched to the area to prevent workers from continuing the plant’s construction, which had previously continued despite an earlier court ruling. A large group of locals, who have long been demanding the implementation of the court ruling to suspend construction, also joined the gendarmerie officers to show their opposition against the plant.

The Bolaman River, on which the Atilla plant was planned, is one of the most important refuges for sea otters and hosts a significant portion of their population in the country. The area was expropriated by a Cabinet decision in 2009 and a license was issued the same year. The approval of the environment assessment report (ÇED), which ignored the significance of the region in terms of endemic plants and protected species, was challenged by a local association after it was controversially approved by the Environment Ministry.

Following a long judicial process, the Council of State eventually issued a stay of execution in 2013, canceling the environmental report while also stating that the urgent decision for expropriation was unlawful.

However, construction, which started during the legal process, proceeded for more than a year despite the ruling, prompting anger from the locals.

The operating company, Suari Energy, pressed for a decision claiming that a ÇED was not necessary, which was also subsequently quashed by an administrative court in the province of Ordu last April. The Ordu’s Governor’s Office had also issued a stay of execution for the construction, while a number of company officials were sentenced to five years in prison in a separate lawsuit opened in a Fatsa court.

Local activist Gülizar Şendur said the latest action by the Fatsa district prefecture was the fruit of a very long struggle.

“We only wanted the implementation of legal decisions. We collected signatures for petitions, camped alongside the river, resisted and won,” she said.

The plant was designed to produce 10.75 MW of electricity per year at the expense of considerable damage to the area’s ecosystem. The adorable sea otters inhabiting the Bolaman valley, flanking the river, are included in the European red list of threatened species. The region also hosts several plants protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The Black Sea’s serpentine coast, crisscrossed with mountains, valleys and water streams, is now the subject of hundreds of small HES projects that are designed to produce insignificant amounts of energy while jeopardizing the environment.