ridge near atlit - Itzik Ben Malki - June 29 2011
The ridge and antiquities site. Photo by Itzik Ben Malki
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Residents of Atlit and environmental organizations won a victory yesterday in their battle against a building plan that would severely damage a nearby kurkar ridge - a rare geological formation - as well as antiquities sites.

The plan had been on the brink of receiving final approval. Yesterday, however, the Haifa regional planning and building committee introduced changes in it that would preserve much of the kurkar ridge.

But residents say the version approved yesterday will still damage some antiquities sites. Moreover, they say, the plan is unnecessary, as Atlit already has enough land reserves for construction.

For years, Atlit residents, backed by several environmental groups, have been battling the plan to build close to 1,000 apartments on the kurkar ridge, which overlooks an ancient Crusader fortress. The ridge contains many plant species unique to kurkar formations, as well as antiquities sites, including some connected with the town's Crusader past.

Via the Kahol V'Yarok ("Blue and Green" ) organization, the residents submitted objections to the plan and held public protests. But with final approval nearing, the battle seemed lost.

At the last minute, however, the Interior Ministry's planning administration and the Israel Lands Administration decided to introduce changes in the plan to make it conform to a master plan for Atlit that has been drafted but not yet finally approved.

Yesterday, when the regional planning committee held its final meeting on residents' objections, it voted to reduce the number of apartments and move them away from the central section of the kurkar ridge. Some of the apartments will now be located in an abandoned quarry that formerly served as an army ammunition dump. The panel also decided that part of a planned road should go through a tunnel to reduce environmental damage.

Kahol V'Yarok said yesterday that the new plan is "an improvement, as it preserves a large part of the kurkar ridge. Nevertheless, there is no logic to cramming hundreds of housing units into the quarry area, near the railroad, which will expose its residents to noise pollution, or to the construction approved on the ridge's southern section. Atlit already has enough space for residential housing, and these areas should have been preserved, along with the kurkar ridge, as part of a park that would help Atlit realize its tourism potential."