The cabinet is set to approve an agreement today in which the Dead Sea Works will pay for most of the salt-harvesting project that aims to protect hotels at the southern end of the Dead Sea from flooding. The agreement between the state and the Israel Chemicals-owned company also doubles the royalties that the mining company will pay the state on the sale of potash.
However, disputes are likely to continue between the Dead Sea Works and environmental groups over the way the project is carried out, over concerns that facilities connected to it will damage the environment.
Until now, earth berms have been built to keep the pool - which is half the size of Lake Kinneret - from overflowing due to an accumulation of salt on the bottom and flooding adjacent hotels.
The cost of the project, which will be implemented by the Dead Sea Works, is estimated at NIS 3.8 billion, of which the company will pay NIS 3.04 billion.
The Dead Sea Works will submit its salt-harvesting plan to the state's planning bodies, along with plans for the establishment of a new pumping station for the Dead Sea water. The company sees the pumping station as essential because of the declining water level of the Dead Sea and its recession from the current pumping station site.
The Dead Sea Works is also moving ahead with plans for another evaporation pool, into which more Dead Sea water will be pumped.
The government decision approving the salt-harvesting plan includes a clause directing the Commission for National Infrastructure to approve both the salt-harvesting and the pumping station by June 2013.
However, environmental groups are concerned that the construction of the new pumping station will require extensive work that will damage the landscape and ecology of its proposed location, the Tze'elim streambed. They may demand an alternative be sought to that site, one of the region's most significant wadis.
The salt-harvesting project may also damage the surrounding landscape, as the salt is to be removed via a conveyor belt planned to pass through the wadi.
Green groups are opposed to the new pool, which they say will worsen the current decline in the level of the Dead Sea. They also argue the construction of berms around it will require the extensive quarrying of earth from desert areas, which will damage the landscape.
However, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel hailed today's expected government decision as "a significant environmental achievement."
There is also opposition among environmental groups over the size of royalties the Dead Sea Works is to pay the state.
The Union for Environmental Defense and the Movement for Quality Government said late last week they would go to court if the royalties agreement passes today, arguing that the Finance Ministry has conceded it presented the state's part in the company's profits as much greater than it actually is.
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