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A new waste treatment plant in Beit She'an opened five months ago at a cost of tens of millions of shekels is sitting near-idle since two out of the three local government bodies supposed to be using it have yet to do so.

Meanwhile, raw sewage from these areas is flowing through the Harod Stream and into the Jordan River. A plan approved two weeks ago for the rehabilitation and conservation of the stream cannot be initiated until the treatment plant is operating at full capacity.

A letter sent to the Environmental Protection Ministry from Dalia Tal, an activist in the clean water advocacy group Zalul, says the result is that raw sewage from Beit She'an and the communities of the Gilboa Regional Council flow regularly through the Harod Stream to the southern Jordan River.

Only Emek Hamayanot Regional Council is utilizing the plant. The 35-kilometer long Harod Stream has a drainage basin of approximately 192 square kilometers. The spring water that once flowed through it has been overtaken by agricultural runoff and drainage water from fish ponds, and downstream, sewage from Beit She'an, which has a population of nearly 17,000.

Flood waters are channeled to reservoirs, and only in very rainy years does the overflow enter the stream to cleanse it.

Since the 1950s increasing quantities of sewage have been flowing into it, and for a number of years work of various kinds has been carried out to remove pollutants of which waste treatment is the most critical. The flow of waste must be stanched before rehabilitation of the stream can begin.

Tal wrote in her letter that Zalul expected the Environmental Protection Ministry to take action against the council heads to spur them to do their duty, after it sued the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, Yossi Vardi, in November 2009 for allowing sewage to flow into the Jordan.

The Beit She'an municipality said it had to deal with the contractor before it could begin using the plant.

"The municipality has an agreement with the franchisee operating the regional waste treatment facility," it said. "Unfortunately, the company has recently demanded to unilaterally change the he agreement. We will not lend a hand to this act of extortion. We proposed to pay the company four months ahead as per our signed agreement, to immediately connect to the treatment plant because of the importance in which we hold environmental protection. But our proposal was rejected. Our legal advisers have directed us not to sign the new agreement demanded by the franchisee. We have also asked the northern district of the Environmental Protection Ministry to intervene immediately."

Comment from the franchisee was unavailable.

The Gilboa Regional Council said: "We are in the process of connecting pipelines from the communities to the plant under the supervision of the Environmental Protection Ministry."

The work would be completed by the end of the 2010, the council said.

Dorit Zis, of the northern district of the Environmental Protection Ministry said infrastructure to connect Beit She'an to the plant was complete, and that Beit She'an Mayor Jackie Levy had been summoned for a hearing. Zis confirmed the Gilboa Regional Council infrastructure to connect to the treatment plant was not complete, but that unlike Beit She'an, interim solutions have prevented sewage from flowing directly into the stream.

TA court ruling may halt Hiriya recycling project

The major recycling and energy production project planned at the Hiriya landfill near Ben-Guriun Airport is in danger of being delayed or canceled. This development comes in the wake of comments made yesterday by Tel Aviv District Court Judge Esther Covo, who said she tended to agree with the petition before her demanding a tender for the establishment of the facility.

As of now, the Nesher cement company is set to establish the facility through Veolia Environmental Services Israel. It is to process about half of the Dan Region's garbage at Hiriya, which belongs to the Dan Region Association of Towns for Sewage and Environmental Issues. The refuse will be separated at the facility, with one third sent to the Nesher plant in Ramle for use as refuse-derived fuel (RDF). The Dan Association had signed an agreement with Nesher which stated it would be able to treat the waste without a tender. It was permitted to do so, the association argued, because Nesher was the only supplier of cement who needed the refuse for fuel.

However, another garbage collection company, Chen Hamakom took the matter to court, demanding that the company that would operate the facility be decided by tender. The attorney for Chen Hamakom, Erez Tikolsker, argued that at least one other company could utilize the garbage for fuel and that Nesher is not the only firm that can establish the facility.

"I am about to write my verdict and you should know that you are wrong," Covo told the representatives of the Dan Association and Nesher, adding that she found it unacceptable that Nesher be the only player.

The attorney for the Dan Association, Asaf Hadasi, told the judge, "The moment we decided on the RDF method, Nesher was the only consumer." Therefore, he argued, Nesher should be involved in the entire process. "Otherwise the material produced could harm their furnaces," he added. "So there won't be a project," Covo replied to this.

Covo aceded to the request filed by Nesher and the Dan Association to provide her with additional information, which she limited to three pages. (Zafrir Rinat)