Turkish firm cancels olive grove power plant plan

A lucrative industry

ISTANBUL - The Turkish government said a company that chopped down 6,000 valuable olive trees in order to build a new power plant must obey a court ruling blocking the construction of the facility, reports said Tuesday.
Turkish environmentalists, led by the local branch of Greenpeace, were outraged when security agents employed by the Kolin Group last week moved in to fall the trees in defiance of local protests.
However Turkey's administrative court had already blocked the construction of the 510-megawatt coal-fired power plant at the olive grove in Yirca in the west of the country.
Its ruling, which was only published on Monday, made clear the verdict could not be appealed and said there was no public interest in building the power plant on the olive grove.
It remains unclear what prompted the company to order the felling of the trees on Friday and if it was already aware of the court ruling.
"It's our duty to make sure that the court decision is implemented," Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said after a cabinet meeting late on Monday.
"We are impartial in this case, the company has to respect the ruling," he added.
The case has generated huge interest in Turkey where it highlighted difficulties in balancing the government's dream of making the country a top global economy with protecting a fragile environment and heritage.
Arinc implied the company could still build the power plant but in an area away from the olive groves.
"There are olive groves all over Turkey thanks to the incentives our government has provided. Even mountains and high plains are full of olive trees," said Arinc.
"Those trees have created a lucrative industry. But Turkey needs energy too," he added.
Greenpeace hailed the court ruling as an "important step" in protecting the environment against "irresponsible" energy investments.
"Urgent measures need to be taken so that the events in Yirca are not repeated in other parts of Turkey," Greenpeace Mediterranean lawyer Deniz Bayram said.
Meanwhile, the Hurriyet daily reported that 100 Kolin employees, including 50 security guards who were involved in clashes with the villagers during the felling of the trees, have been sacked.
It quoted the guards as saying the company offered them lifelong job security and retirement packages and made them attack the villagers who opposed the construction.