Seven-year-old Baruch, accompanied by his little sister, Hely, and his parents, came to see the aerial cable car in Haifa last week. But he was hesitant to travel 400 meters in the air, to the Stella Maris lookout point on the slopes of Mount Carmel, in a transparent carriage. "It's fun," he said hesitantly, as if trying to persuade himself to get into the car. Hely, on the other hand, who is 4, simply ran ahead and was the first to climb into the carriage without any fear. But as the car pulled off, she burst into tears.
The cable car was being run in at the end of last week, in anticipation of its reopening yesterday - a year and a half after being hit during the Second Lebanon War. The car climbed up slowly as it approached the slope of the mountain. Behind it one could see the sea; the stone houses of Bat Galim on the shore alongside the long lines of low-cost housing for new immigrants and elderly residents; and the boardwalk and the handful of fishermen who had returned to shore with their day's catch. "From above, the sea seems to be much cleaner," said Yossi Biton, the cable car's manager.
It took as long as it did for the ride to reopen because of the negotiations that took place with the property-tax authorities about the damage sustained during the war, and the extent of compensation due to the owners of the ride. On July 25, 2006, a missile fell close to the cable car and parts of the cable that carries the spherical cars were torn. Although both the Austrian manufacturer of the ride, Doppelmayr, which was asked by the tax authority to render an expert opinion, and a team from the nearby Technion, declared that the damage was caused by the missile and that parts needed to be replaced, the authorities refused to assume the cost of the damage, which they insisted had not been caused by the rocket.
Haifa's aerial cable car was set up in the middle of the 1980s, and offered rides via six round, orange cars that ferry visitors from Bat Galim, along the shore, to the Stella Maris monastery high on the Carmel mountain. Before it closed, it was carrying some 200,000 people per year, mainly on holidays and at vacation times, and brought in NIS 800,000 to one million shekels every year. Nonetheless, it was not a profitable enterprise. In 1996, it was turned into part of the "Yotvata in Town" restaurant complex at Bat Galim.
In contrast to the problems encountered by the Haifa ride, war damage sustained by the cable car ride at Manara, in the northern Galilee, which was estimated at several million shekels, was repaired and operation resumed with a few months of the war's conclusion, in August 2006.
"Menara is on the 'confrontation line,' and there the property tax authorities are obliged to pay for both direct and indirect damage, as stipulated by the Confrontation Line Law, with each additional day costing property tax more money. Haifa is not within the limits of the confrontation line," explained the owner of the Yotvata complex in Haifa, Gavri Wols.
In October, the management sent the property tax authority an estimate for repair of the damage to the cable and to the electronic system that operates the cars. No compensation was paid, however.
Doppelmayr's estimate for the work it was asked to do was approximately 400,000 euros. Wols says that it was only in May of last year that the tax authorities agreed to pay 135,000 euros to fix the electronic system. The issue of the cable was left open and it has not yet been paid for. "They told us we could go ahead with the orders, that we should take the money, and that if we had reservations, we could discuss them later on," he says. The company ordered the new cable and the electronic system from abroad at the beginning of June and these arrived in December.
Wols stated that he plans to go to court to demand compensation from the tax authority for the losses caused by holding up the original compensation - approximately NIS 2 million.
The property tax authority's response: "The cable car was hit several times during the Second Lebanon War. Property tax paid compensation for those damages that were not a matter of dispute. There is a factual dispute over the cause of the damage to the actual cable. The authority's position is based on an expert opinion of the first order in Israel. There are discussions under way with representatives of the cable car over this issue and we hope it will be resolved soon."
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