Pearl of the Black Sea coast faces threat from ‘black diamonds’

Pearl of the Black Sea coast faces threat from ‘black diamonds’

Among several protests held by Bartın residents against fossil fuel power plants, one was at the end of 2010; the green sign reads “Don’t touch my forest, my water.” (PHOTO AA)

April 08, 2012, Sunday/ 14:33:00

Amasra, a Black Sea retreat that has unique architecture, harbors, beaches and ruins of Roman, Genoese and Ottoman castles, has managed to escape destruction from mass tourism, but the lovely town now faces a threat from coal, much to the chagrin of its people.

It is said that when Fatih Sultan Mehmet (Mehmet the Conqueror) captured Amasra, taking it from the hands of the Genoese, he arrived at the spot that is now called Bakacak Hill and asked his “lala” (educator), “Lala, could this be the Çeşm-i Cihan [eye of the world]?” Fatih Sultan was struck by the beauty of the town in 1460, but today’s investors see profits when they look at the area, which has coal deposits.

People of the region feel that having coal is both a blessing and a curse for Amasra, which is only one of the towns threatened by coal-fired power plants as the government supports their establishment in several more locations in Turkey – including in Biga, Yalova, Gerze and Karadeniz Ereğli -- saying that they are needed to quench the country’s thirst for more energy. “A lot of people here are old miners. They earn their bread from mining, but most people are against a coal-fired power plant because they are aware how harmful it will be for our region,” said Serhat Çörek, acting mayor of Bartın, a small city of about 180,000 people, 17 kilometers from Amasra.

A similar opinion is voiced by Deputy Mayor of Amasra Şinasi Demirok. “Most people here are against the coal plant but not the coal mining since it will create jobs. But since they are miners, they are aware of what coal mining does to the environment,” he said.

There are many known consequences of coal-fired power plants. One is acid rain, which is caused by the emission of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. Acid rain harms infrastructure, plants and aquatic animals. Additionally, coal-fired thermal power plants are responsible for 41 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, a direct cause of climate change. “I’ll be first to leave if a coal-fired power plant is established here,” said 52-year-old Süleyman Karadayı, who owns a flower shop in downtown Bartın. “We have clean water and fish; we don’t want to lose them,” he said.

Gülcan Yoğurtçu, a 38-year-old woman who works in a shop in Bartın, said most of the people in the area do not support the plant even if they voted for the ruling party, which she sees as the force behind such mega plants.

“We are against that power plant here,” she said.

Some other locals in both Bartın and Amasra noted that they made a visit to the Çatalağzı thermal plant in Zonguldak, the center of Turkey’s coal mining industry. What they saw was coal ash all around. Ash deposited in the sea at Çatalağzı drifts as far as the shores of Bartın and threatens marine life, according to a 2008 report by the Bartın Governor’s Office which indicated that without the ash Bartın would have good potential for ecotourism since there is very little heavy industry in the province.

Tourism important for Amasra

Hasan Cengiz, chairman of the Amasra Association for Culture and Tourism, said it is tourism that will provide jobs for the people. “We don’t need the plant here for jobs. There are already several tourism projects -- a marina, rehabilitation of the Bartın River with recreational and agricultural facilities. There is no other Amasra!”

Cengiz also noted that the company is trying to break people’s resistance by employing some town residents in its mining and natural gas factories in the region. “There are difficulties, but we are still united,” he said.

The people of Amasra and Bartın joined forces against the coal-fired plant planned by HEMA Industries of Hattat Holding, which first came to Bartın in 1999 to establish a 150 MW thermal plant. They were not able to set up the plant because of the strong reaction against it by the people of Bartın even though unemployment is a significant local problem.

According to the history of events sponsored by the Bartın Platform, a civil society organization established in April 2010 with more than 120 institutional representatives to coordinate the battle against the power plant, HEMA officials came back to Bartın in 2005 saying that they would not establish a coal-powered plant but only mine coal and sell it. “Despite those promises, they have been engaged in preparing formal applications and having an Environmental Impact Assessment [ÇED] prepared,” said Erdoğan Atmış, an associate professor from the forest policy department of Bartın University, who is also a member of the Bartın Platform.

Atmış noted that HEMA officials applied to the Energy Market Regulatory Agency (EPDK) in 2006 for a 654 MW power plant in Amasra, and then decided to pursue a 2,640 MW power plant, as documented in the ÇED report submitted at the end of 2009 to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (now the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning). “A new law requires the state to pay compensation for expropriation in the area where power plants bigger than 1,000 MW will be established. Moreover, the state must guarantee to buy energy produced by those plants for 15 years. In addition, the state covers the costs of bringing power to the nearest power transmission lines,” he added.

The Bartın Platform formally asked the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning how people are supposed to trust a company which has gone back on its word so many times: “In 2005, they were insistently asked if they had plans to establish a coal-fired power plant here, and they said no. Now they are threatening that if they are not going to establish a plant, they won’t mine for coal, either. How are we supposed to trust their word?”

According to news reports in February, Hattat Holding Chairman of the Board Mehmet Hattat and the Chinese AVIC International Corporation signed a $1 billion framework agreement to establish coal-fired power plants in Bartın and Amasra with the expectation of having a 4000 MW mega plant using “ultra ultra super critical” technology. Energy Minister Taner Yıldız was present at the signing ceremony. The company is reportedly in the process of preparing the ÇED for the planned plants.

Festival of life without a thermal plant

The people of Bartın are famous for their struggle against the imposition of power plants in the region. In the 1990s, they came up against natural gas-fired thermal power plants, and in the 2000s, they protested against oil-fired mobile power plants.

On April 15, 2010, in an eight-hour meeting at the assembly hall of the Bartın Special Provincial Administration, provincial mayors in Bartın, members of both the provincial council and municipal council and representatives of civil society organizations openly voiced their stand against the thermal plant planned in Amasra. The speeches made at that meeting were transcribed and printed in a book by the Bartın Governor’s Office.

Later the same year, 30,000 signatures were collected in the province against the building of the plant, and the company was not able to hold meetings with the public in the process of preparing the ÇED report because of protests.

And on April 22 of last year, the people of Bartın stood against the plant in a demonstration with the participation of about 10,000.

The company is expected to present its latest ÇED report – the previous report was turned down for technical reasons – to the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning at the end of May. In the meantime, there will be an activity in Amasra on April 22 with the slogan: “Festival of Life Without a Thermal Plant.”

In June locals plan another such festivity, this time in Bartın, during the Strawberry Festival.

Members of the environmentalist group Greenpeace are planning to support locals in their fight against the establishment of the plant. Greenpeace, which has an anti-coal campaign, staged yet another protest on April 4 in front of the Special Provincial Administration in Yalova, where there are plans to build a coal-fired plant. Greenpeace volunteers called on the local assemblies of Yalova to make decisions that public health into consideration.

Other local environmentalist groups have joined the people of Bartın in their struggle, including the Platform for a Green Gerze (YEGEP), the Çatalağzı Environment Association and Environmentalists for the Eastern Mediterranean.

There are several public protests against planned coal-fired plants in Turkey. For the story on the resistance put up by the people of Gerze, another picturesque Black Sea town, go to: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-275981-black-sea-jewel-town-threatened-by-coal-plant-daunted-locals-resist.html.

‘Is the ministry going to decide against its own plan?’

As the people of Bartın said, Amasra and the Küre mountain range -- homes to rich biodiversity, wildlife, natural forests and unique geological and geomorphologic structures, as well as cultural and architectural assets – are unique and precious sites only 13.2 kilometers from the two villages (Tarlaağzı and Gömü) of Bartın where power plants are planned.

Sitting on a surface area of 37,000 hectares, the Küre Mountains are Turkey’s strongest candidate for the PAN Parks (the Protected Area Network of Parks), as presented at the 16th East Mediterranean International Travel and Tourism Exhibition (EMITT). The Küre Mountains are also identified as one of Europe’s 100 forest hotspots in need of urgent conservation. Deputy Mayor of Amasra Demirok said, “As a citizen of this country, I can’t comprehend how anyone can plan a coal plant in a fish breeding area within a short distance of the Küre Mountains.”

However, municipal officials both in Amasra and Bartın indicated that the Environmental Master Plan prepared by the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning -- for the region including the provinces of Bartın, Zonguldak and Karabük -- does not involve any proposals for a thermal power plant in the province.

“Is the ministry going to decide against its own plan?” asked Serhat Çörek, acting mayor of Bartın. He added that they want to use the wind power in the region to produce electricity and said he has initiatives in that regard.

At the end of 2010, the Bartın Platform sent 36 questions to the ministry demanding an explanation for several alleged irregularities in the process of Hattat Holding’s application to build a coal-fired power plant next to Amasra and Bartın, each of which has already been tagged as a SİT, or protected area.

Members of the Bartın Platform said they have not heard back from the ministry.

Demirok’s comment was reflective of the sentiments of some townspeople:

“I’m not sure if we will be able to get results through the judiciary in our fight with all the irregularities. Our only chance might be the public’s resistance to the establishment of the plant.”

Meanwhile, even though Sunday’s Zaman contacted Hattat Holding for answers to several questions related to their plans in Bartın and presented the questions as requested, company officials did not respond.

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