Demonstrators walk past the Tesla factory in Gruenheide, Germany, May...

Demonstrators walk past the Tesla factory in Gruenheide, Germany, May 11, 2024, at the end of their protest. A local council in Germany on Friday May 17, 2024, approved a plan by electric carmaker Tesla to expand the grounds of its first plant in Europe, which has drawn persistent protests this year. Credit: AP/Patrick Pleul

BERLIN — A local council in Germany approved a plan by electric carmaker Tesla to expand the grounds of its first plant in Europe, a proposal which has drawn persistent protests this year.

Councilors in the Gruenheide municipality, just outside Berlin, voted 11-6 Thursday evening with two abstentions in favor of the plan, German news agency dpa reported. The proposal was scaled down to involve the felling of fewer trees than originally intended.

Tesla wants to add a freight depot and logistical space to its factory, which opened in 2022.

In a nonbinding vote in mid-February, residents of Gruenheide rejected Tesla’s original proposal, which would have meant clearing more than 100 hectares (247 acres) of trees.

Activists have been protesting in a forest near the plant since February over concerns about water and deforestation. Hours before the council meeting, a court ruled that police can't clear away tree houses that activists have built in the area for now.

“Stop Tesla,” a group backing the protest, said Friday that it was disappointed by the council's decision and vowed to keep on demonstrating. “We must stay to protect the water and the forest as long as our protection is needed,” it said in a statement.

The state government in Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, welcomed the councilors' decision. The regional economy minister, Jörg Steinbach, described it as “a strong signal for the future development of Gruenheide and Tesla.”

Activists occupy an area in the forest in Gruenheide, Germany,...

Activists occupy an area in the forest in Gruenheide, Germany, March 1, 2024. A local council in Germany on Friday May 17, 2024, approved a plan by electric carmaker Tesla to expand the grounds of its first plant in Europe, which has drawn persistent protests this year. Credit: AP/Cevin Dettlaff

In March, a suspected arson attack on an electricity pylon, claimed by a far-left group, knocked out power supplies to the factory for nearly a week and interrupted production.

Company CEO Elon Musk at the time called the culprits the “dumbest eco-terrorists on Earth” and said anti-Tesla protesters were misguided for aiming to halt production of electric vehicles rather than those powered by fossil fuels.

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