hiriya - Alon Ron - January 31 2011
The Hiriya landfill, slated to become a park after clean up. Photo by Alon Ron
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It was only recently that the state recognized the need to clean up the many sites where garbage has been dumped and land has been polluted by industrial use. Ground pollution has also held up many residential development projects and parks, including some areas of the country where housing is in high demand. Earlier this month the Ministerial Committee for Legislation gave its support for a proposed law designed to clean up polluted land and prevent future ground pollution.

If the Knesset passes the bill, it may lead to a framework that would be the first of its kind providing financial incentives to expedite the clean-up of polluted sites. In data provided by the Environmental Protection Ministry in advance of the ministerial committee meeting on the bill, 3,000 sites were singled out as locations where ground pollution is suspected, involving thousands of dunams of land.

The ministry says there are probably another 20,000 such sites, and estimates the cost of conducting a survey of potential polluted sites and their clean-up could reach NIS 9 billion. The financial return from rehabilitating the sites is huge, however. The clean-up of all them would result in a collective increase in the value of the sites and surrounding property of NIS 35 billion, it is estimated.

The proposed legislation would impose an obligation to survey for ground pollution and to clean up any pollution found on the polluters themselves, even if they no longer own the land. The land registrar would be given the authority to note the presence of pollution on specific parcels in the land registry, and the notation would be removed when the pollution is cleaned up. Parties with an interest in polluted land or land when the duty to conduct a survey has arisen would be required to notify potential buyers or lessees of the condition.

If it is found that land leased from the Israel Lands Administration is polluted when it reverts back to the ILA, the cost of the clean-up and the drop in the value of the land would be charged to the lessee. The state would be entitled to charge fees and fines under the proposed legislation, and those proceeds would be put in a special fund for land clean-up.

The fund proceeds would be used in part to provide grants and loans to individuals required to restore polluted land.

Up to now, land pollution clean-up has been dealt with through a variety of approaches. One case in point is the mound of scrap metal debris at the former United Steel Mills site outside Acre, where metal was recycled. The site was taken over by a liquidator, and the state recognized the need to rehabilitate the plot and turn it over to other uses, but it was only recently that an agreement was reached on dealing with the problem.

In December, the Haifa District Court approved an arrangement for liquidator Ilan Shavit to deal with the problem. The state will provide half the funding, NIS 21 million, for the clean-up, with the other half coming from the parties represented by Shavit. The court noted Shavit's financial incentive in clearing away the mound of metal debris because of the expected increase in the land's value once the site is cleared.

Clean-up of another polluted site, Haifa's Kishon River, is expected to transform a polluted industrial area into part of a large metropolitan park. In this case, the state is demanding funding from polluters whose output contaminated the riverbed, including the Haifa Chemicals fertilizer plant, which poured effluent into the Kishon for years.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan recently approached Jules Trump, the chairman of the Haifa Chemicals board, demanding that the company pick up part of the tab for the clean-up of the Kishon, saying the firm's share of the NIS 200 million clean-up costs is NIS 28 million. The ministry is demanding that polluters in the area pay for 60% of the cost of the project, with the balance coming from the state and regional government authorities.

"The Haifa Chemicals plant is the only one refusing to fulfill its obligations and as a result, the clean-up project is being delayed and its future is endangered," Erdan wrote.

The company refused to respond to Erdan's comments but takes the position that it is responsible for a much smaller portion of the pollution than Erdan contends.

The state against itself

When the polluters are state entities, dealing with the problem is not so simple either, as is apparent in the case of pollution near Herzliya's Nof Yam neighborhood, where an Israel Military Industries facility used to exist. The production of explosive materials there caused ground pollution, and even though IMI left the site 14 years ago, clean-up efforts that would pave the way for 3,000 new housing units is still not complete.

Within the past several months, Israel Lands Administration head Yaron Bibi sent IMI a highly critical letter accusing the state armaments producer of delaying a risk assessment of the site, which is required before the area can be cleaned up. Bibi demanded that the staff of the company that is to perform that risk survey be allowed access to the site.

For its part, IMI says it welcomes the survey and will cooperate with it, but it will not assume legal liability for work that is not being performed under its auspices. Until the matter is resolved the survey is on hold.

At the Hiriya garbage dump east of Tel Aviv, a dispute over responsibility for hazards is holding up progress on the Ariel Sharon urban park at the site, comprised of the mountain of garbage and the areas around it.

The first phase of plans calls for preparing the mountain of trash for visitors by dealing with hazardous conditions there. The overall project includes a drainage plan designed to eliminate runoff during the winter in neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv. The park project could substantially increase the value of nearby residential areas.

The government corporation planning the park took possession of the site just over a year ago, but it says it cannot assume responsibility for dealing with hazardous conditions there.

It says the state itself, which approved the use of the site as a dump, has to assume the cost.

The finance and environmental protection ministries are currently trying to iron out a plan that will permit the government park corporation to move forward with the park without concern that it will have to assume the cost of cleaning up pollution at what used to be the largest garbage dump in the country.