The Nahal Tzin Nature Reserve has incurred serious damage because of the Environmental Protection Ministry's demand that ground polluted by a recent fuel spill be dug out, senior nature conservation officials say. But ministry officials reject this claim, and say they are doing what is necessary to clean up the spill.
The spill occurred when a pipe carrying jet fuel burst three months ago while the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company was performing maintenance work on its pipeline in the Tzin Valley in the Negev.
Immediately after the spill, the Environmental Protection Ministry directed the pipeline company and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority to begin a cleanup in the valley, which is an ecological corridor for many species of wild animals, including ibex and gazelles.
The cleanup and removal of contaminated soil has been underway for the past few weeks. The INPA says the work is almost finished, and landscape rehabilitation can start soon. During cleanup operations bulldozers and other heavy equipment have been working in the valley, and a road has been created along which trucks have been making dozens of daily round-trip runs, removing soil.
According to a senior nature conservation official: "The ministry's directives have turned the area into one big quarrying and mining site. It's simply impossible to stop them. The valley was contaminated and clearly the contaminated part was damaged, but there was no need for this extent of earth-moving works."
The Environmental Protection Ministry was treating the area as it was an urban area that had been polluted and where no fuel must be left, the official said. "But this is a nature reserve, and according to experts, the fuel that accumulates in the ground will undergo a natural biodegrading process," he said.
An expert assessment by the INPA completed a few days ago does not criticize the Environmental Protection Ministry, but notes that soil removal and landscape rehabilitation damaged the reserve ecologically. Damage is particularly severe to wildlife in the area, according to the assessment.
The Environmental Protection Ministry said in response: "We are surprised at the unprofessional claims of individuals who are not familiar with the actual work. It is important to clarify that the ministry ordered the soil contaminated with fuel to be removed, not cleaned. The goal is to remove the contaminant quickly while minimizing damage to the valley and the stream banks, and to the expected natural flow of water during flooding."
The ministry also said that in coordination with the nature and parks authority, it had instructed the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company to draw out all the liquid fuel and remove it to a depth of five meters. "To prevent damage to the streambed, the ministry is now focusing on planning its rehabilitation to restore it to its previous state before the coming rainy season," the statement said.
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