Cihan Başakçıoğlu / DUVAR

Environmentalists are concerned that the expansion of a stone quarry in the Bergama district of the western province of İzmir will cause major destruction to the area’s lush Kozak highlands. 

An Environmental Impact Assessment (ÇED) report had not even been obtained prior to the quarry’s construction in 2011. Today, the ÇED process has begun in order to expand the area of the quarry from 35 hectares to 189 hectares. Environmentalists say this will be disastrous for the region’s agricultural land.

“I’m calling upon [the quarry owner] to give the people the rights to breathe their air and drink their water. The Kozak highlands are slipping out of our hands,” said Bergama Environmental Platform spokesman Erol Engel. 

The plan seeks to raise the quarry’s 8,100-ton capacity to 110,000 tons and will expand the area on which it operates to six times its original size. Local environmentalists are planning to hold a meeting with the public on July 16 regarding the matter. 

According to Engel, pine nut trees are endemic to the Kozak highlands, but have not been fruitful for 12 years.

“In those villages, there is total desperation and poverty,” he said.

“The day has arrived for the quarry, and they are invading every inch. On the other hand, the villagers are cutting down the unfruitful pine nut trees and selling them. In this sense, there is an unseen massacre at hand. There is an export value that does not fall below $50 million in terms of quality pine nut production from this region,” Engel said. 

The owner of the quarry also happens to be the chairman of the region’s Agricultural Development Cooperative, Engel said, a situation that he characterizes as “tragicomic.” 

The area is also home to grapevines and the expansion of the quarry could result in people being driven out of their homes, according to Engel, who added that he has spoken to the İzmir Municipality, which said they would look into the matter. 

“We are calling upon the public: the Kozak highlands have been keeping the economies of Bergama and Ayvalık on their feet for years. When pine nut production was at its peak, it seriously kept them on their feet. Furthermore, the Kozak highlands are the lungs of the region, and its most quality water is here,” Engel said.