Courts can’t stop Istanbul’s third airport, how can the trees and birds?

Courts can’t stop Istanbul’s third airport, how can the trees and birds?

An Istanbul court’s decision earlier this week to suspend environmental approval for the plans to build a highly controversial third airport in Istanbul has not slowed the construction down.

Officials immediately announced that the court decision did not require the stopping of the works. “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,” said Transportation Minister Lütfi Elvan, although many legal experts argue the opposite.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government considers such court decisions on controversial projects as “creating obstacles to prevent us from serving to the nation.” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan openly declared yesterday that they could amend laws if the courts continued to give such rulings.

“The court ruled to stop the construction of a city hospital in Etlik after we laid down the foundations,” Erdoğan said in Ankara. “The trucks are waiting in the construction zone, this is a shame. We will make the necessary changes to the law and we will construct that hospital. Whatever you do, you cannot stop us from serving our nation.”

It is not only the courts that are trying to “slow down the government’s services.” Ruling party officials have claimed that “foreign powers” wanted to defame the government during the Gezi protests last June in order to stop the construction of the third airport. This idea resurfaced when a graft probe involving some Cabinet members and their relatives was launched on Dec. 17.

Leaving the absurdity of this idea aside, and noting that the owners of the firms to build the third airport are at the heart of corruption allegations regarding the sale of the Sabah/ATV media group, I would have been delighted if stealing Frankfurt and London’s air traffic was the only problem with the plans. Unfortunately, there are real issues to worry about.

According to the now-suspended Environmental Impact Report (EIP) of the airport, the area selected for the project, located in the north of Istanbul by the Black Sea, is 76.5 million square meters, and 61.7 million square meters of this area is forested land. The construction of the airport will be a huge blow to the northern forests of Istanbul, the final forest lands of Turkey’s biggest city.

In addition, the airport will be constructed near Lake Terkos, which holds one-fifth of the city’s potable water.

“The connection of two rivers that feed Terkos reservoir will be cut by the construction works,” the EIP report says. “At the same time, three rivers that feed the Alibey Köy basin will lose their connections due to the constructions. It is predicted that the river flows to Lake Terkos and Alibey Köy Basin will be affected and the water potential will decrease.”

The area is also located on the path of migrating birds. But the danger posed by the birds to the planes, and vice versa, should not be a big deal for state officials who rely on the intelligence of the birds.

“The train will not slow down. In time, the birds will get used to the high-speed trains and change their migration route completely,” officials from the State Railways said in November 2013 after the high-speed train hit migrating birds, killing tens of them.

Meanwhile, the third bridge to be built over the Bosporus and its connected highways, which go through the heart of the northern forests, got an exemption of EIP report with a government-led law that was approved in May 2013. However, the “foreign powers that do not want Turkey to develop” made their move here, too: The creditors of the project demanded an EIP report and refused to finance the project. The report prepared due to the creditors’ pressure and published on the contractor’s website states the following:

“In the 60.5-meter wide construction corridor, approximately 345 hectares (3.45 million square meters) of oak forest will be destroyed. In addition, a 284-hectare forest of pinales, and a 112.5-hectare area that is dominated by species such as acacia, linden and willow will be destroyed.”

Apparently, the government thinks nature can be sacrificed for the development of the country. And putting a couple of trees on the concrete ground of Taksim Square will give the people of Istanbul the greenery they need.

So long, trees and birds, it was nice knowing you.