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A project to rehabilitate the bed of the Kishon River, which has been polluted for years, is due to be launched in the coming days.

The Environmental Protection Ministry announced yesterday it had issued a tender last week to do the earthwork the project will require, and that this would begin during the summer.

Later this month an international tender will be issued for removing and purifying the soil in the riverbed, which will take about a year and a half. The total cost of the project is estimated at NIS 220 million, to be funded by the government, the local authorities in the area, and several of the industrial concerns located near the river, including Oil Refineries, Ltd. and Haifa Chemicals.

Under the rehabilitation plan, the winner of the earthwork tender will divert the route of the Kishon River that goes past the oil refineries slightly southward. The dry area that will result near the oil refineries will be used to store the polluted soil that will be removed from the river.

This soil will be stored in an area of 200 dunams (50 acres ) and will undergo drying and bacterial processes to break down the pollutants. After these processes are completed, the area will serve as part of a park.

For years the Kishon River was a dumping ground for chemical runoffs that included crude oil products, fertilizer byproducts, and heavy metals. Some of these pollutants sank to the river bed.

In 1992 a large drainage project on the Kishon removed much of the polluted river bed to adjoining pools, but a layer of polluted soil still remains, which this project aims to take care of.

A number of experts have criticized the plan, claiming the level of pollutants still in the riverbed do not justify such an expensive project. They say simpler soil treatment would suffice, as would simply removing the soil for burial in a garbage dump.

The Environmental Protection Ministry has rejected the criticism, arguing that the soil needs treatment to prevent environmental pollution.

One of the primary reasons behind this project is not to further clean the Kishon, but to improve the river's drainage to prevent flooding during the winter. Four years ago, the High Court of Justice ruled that the government and local authorities in the area are responsible for any damage such flooding might cause.

In recent years the Kishon's water quality has improved significantly. The Environment Ministry and Kishon River Authority have succeed in getting the factories near the river to reduce the pollutants in their effluents. Many species of birds, turtles and fish that hadn't been seen at the river for years have returned.

The rehabilitation project is being carried out in accordance with a government decision promoted by Environmental Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, with the aim of turning the areas adjacent to the river into a park for Haifa area residents.