Sasgon Valley - Zafrir Rinat - 13122011
The Sasgon Valley in the Arava, where a hotel is slated to be built. Photo by Zafrir Rinat
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Developers can build a hotel in the Sasgon Valley in the south of the Arava Desert despite objections voiced by green organizations and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, according to a decision by the Southern District Planning and Building Council Monday.

The council did rule, however, that the developer, Igra Hotels, must submit a plan with a scaled-down scope of construction.

The Environmental Protection Ministry and green organizations have announced they will fight the plan and will try to submit an appeal to the National Planning and Building Council.

"If a developer decides tomorrow that he wants to build in the Western Wall plaza because it is a tourist attraction, will the state also back his considerations?" asked Erdan. "We need to learn to develop alongside the environment and nature and not to destroy them."

In recent years, Igra Hotels has pushed ahead with plans to erect a several-hundred room hotel in the heart of the Sasgon Valley, which lies just north of Timna Park. Green organizations fought a legal battle against the plans, taking their case to the Be'er Sheva District Court and arguing that the construction will severely damage the unique region.

During the legal proceedings, Ethos - Architecture, Planning & Environment was called in to conduct a study of the plans. The company concluded that alternative locations for the hotel should be considered so as to avoid any environmental damage to the Sasgon Valley.

The Southern District Planning and Building Council, however, did not uphold Ethos' recommendations, and ruled that the hotel can be built, with restrictions, to allow the public to enjoy an area of the country that is currently inaccessible to most.

The council ruled, too, that Igra must put forward two alternatives for the development of the hotel over a constructed area that does not exceed 24,000 square meters - a reduction of more than one-third of the area proposed in the original plans.

Igra must also submit an environmental impact statement for the construction that will be reviewed by the Environmental Protection Ministry.

"I am also in favor of hotel development in the Arava," Erdan said on Monday during the meeting of the Southern District Planning and Building Council. "But there is no reason for the council to function only in keeping with the economic interests of the developer and to allow it to build in nature and destroy it instead of instructing it to build at a more southerly alternative that was recommended by the planning consultant hired by the district council."

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense harshly slammed the council's decision, charging that its members voted contrary to public interests.

"The struggle is clearly not over until the bulldozers arrive on the scene, and we will do all we can to prevent this from happening," said a statement from an Arava residents group set up to protest the construction.

The Tourism Ministry welcomed the council's decision.