Sinop (Dunya) – Since he was elected mayor of this Black Sea coastal city in 2009, Baki Ergul, 60, a civil engineer and town boy, has done his utmost to transform his financially ailing municipality into a tourism mecca with the limited financial resources available.
"We inherited a TL 35 million debt. The city had neither a real drinking water system nor a sewage network. There was no zoning plan for the municipality," Mr. Ergul, mayor of Sinop, Turkey's northernmost city, recalled in an interview. "The ship was sunk. We have refloated it."
Founded in 7th century
A resort city of 50,000 inhabitants that balloons to 200,000 during the summer months, Sinop is located on a narrow peninsula and faces the Black Sea on both sides. Turkey's northernmost point, Inceburun (Cape Ince), is only 30 km to the northwest. The city, which has an airport, is located 697 km east of Istanbul and 434 km, northeast of Ankara.
Founded in the 7th century BC as a Greek colony of the ancient city of Miletus, Sinop is a major fishing port with hundreds of fishing boats docked in its boat shelter and marina. It is also a port of call for liners touring the Black Sea.
The town has a prison that once held the country's leading political prisoners, including the novelist Sabahattin Ali (1907-1948), but which has since been turned into a museum.
Sinop is best known as the birth place of Diogenes (412 BC- 323BC), the ancient Greek philosopher and founder of the School of Cynicism. A statue of Diogenes with a lantern can be seen in the center of town.
The city was also the birthplace of Necmettin Erbakan (1925-2011), Turkey's first Islamist Prime Minister.
In a short span, Mr. Ergul, began building a new drinking water system for the city, started constructing a sewage system and preparing a new zoning plan for the city drawn, using his old ties as a former regional manager of the State Hydraulics Works Administration (DSI).
Much of the financing for the projects have come from donations of companies that did work for Mr. Ergul at DSI, and from wealthy donors in the city, as well as municipal taxes and other revenues.
"The municipality is paying TL 5 million to TL 6 million a month to pay off its debts," says Mr. Ergul, a Gene Kelly lookalike, in the interview in the municipal park, facing the city's 7th century B.C. castle that was revamped by the Romans, the Byzantines and the Turks.
The new TL 26 million drinking water system for the city is expected to be completed at the end of this year. Work is continuing on a new pre-treatment sewage system that will be completed in 2013, and a zoning plan for the city is expected to be finished next month, he says.
Additionally, a new covered vegetable market place is in the works. New parks, with outdoor cafes and tea houses, have been constructed. Some 5 km of roads in the city have been paved.
Thermal power plant
But now, a plan by Istanbul's powerful Anadolu Group to build a 1,200 MW coal-fired power plant in Gerze, a town 25 km east of Sinop, and the government's aim to build a nuclear power plant at Inceburun, have Mr. Ergul and tens of thousands of citizens roiled.
"The power plants will turn our tourism paradise city into hell," he says. "No one has the right to put hell inside paradise."
Air and water pollution from the coal-fired site, he says, will devastate Sinop and the surrounding areas, and destroy fish feeding and breeding grounds along the coast.
He also warned that the plant could be a cause of acid rain that could ruin the nearby Plains of Bafra, a major a farming area with wetlands where the Kizilirmak, Turkey's longest river, empties into the Black Sea.
The Plains of Bafra are located only 50 km east of Sinop, in the neighboring Samsun province.
"The power plant will finish off the plains of Bafra and the wilderness country around Sinop," he says.
He believes tourism is the only hope for Sinop after the closure 20 years ago of a major glass factory and an American Cold War intelligence-gathering radar base that provided most of the civilian jobs of the city. Mr. Ergul's father worked as a handyman at the base, which shuttered in 1992.
But he says new hotels have to be built.
"If 20 tourist buses were come to Sinop, I would have trouble finding accommodations for all the guests," he stressed.