New Istanbul airport pushes ahead despite environmental concerns

Photo: New Istanbul airport pushes ahead despite environmental concerns / Turkey

The groundbreaking ceremony of a $30 billion airport to the north of İstanbul is scheduled to be held on Saturday, although the legal process concerning the airport's environmental impact report (ÇED) is still ongoing, Today's Zaman reported.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to attend the ceremony.

In May of last year, Turkish consortium Limak-Cengiz-Kolin-Mapa-Kalyon OGG beat three competitors to the 22.1 billion euro deal to build a new airport to the northwest of İstanbul.

And yet, on Jan. 21, in a surprise decision, an İstanbul administrative court ordered construction on İstanbul's third airport to be suspended to allow an expert review of the project's environmental risk.

After the court's decision, the winning consortium submitted a new 1,347-page ÇED to the Ministry of Transportation on March 6, and if the new environmental report is approved, it will invalidate the decision to halt construction.

The airport is one of several highly controversial infrastructure projects taking shape on İstanbul's northern Black Sea coast. Across the northern stretch of İstanbul's Bosporus waterway, a $3 billion third bridge and adjoining road network are under construction. Environmentally protected lands have been rezoned to incorporate a "New İstanbul" of government-subsidized housing developments, while, barring future financing woes, a 45-kilometer canal is planned west of İstanbul to reroute shipping from the Bosporus.

The airport isn't controversial for its environmental impact alone. Airport builders Cengiz, Kolin and Limak - firms with close ties to Erdoğan's government - have been implicated in a massive corruption scandal that has rocked Turkey's government since Dec. 17 of last year.

The plans to construct the new airport were unveiled in January of last year, and the project could be completed as early as 2017. The Ministry of Transportation has predicted the airport will be able to handle 90 million passengers a year after opening in 2017, gradually expanding to the world-record capacity of 150 million per year.

There are two airports in the city at present - İstanbul Atatürk Airport, on the European side of the city, and Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, on the Asian side - both of which are quite large. In 2011, İstanbul Atatürk Airport saw more than 37 million passengers, and Sabiha Gökçen saw over 13 million. However, the two airports cannot meet growing domestic and international passenger demand.

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