eilat - Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel - February 11 2011
An artist’s rendition of the planned development for Eilat’s Almog Beach. Photo by Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel
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A ministerial committee is expected to vote on Sunday on plans to build a new hotel on Eilat's Coral Beach. The Environmental Protection Ministry and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel both strongly object to the project, which they say will destroy the coral reefs and the landscape.

Eilat's planning authorities approved the plan to build an eight-story, 160-room hotel covering 2,500 square meters by adding six stories to an existing building in the Coral Beach Nature Reserve. The beach is a relatively isolated shore south of the city's main hotel compound.

But in 2009, the Environmental Protection Ministry and SPNI appealed to the ministerial committee for internal affairs against the plan. The committee will finally hear this appeal on Sunday.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan wrote in the appeal that rezoning the land from a tourist site to a hotel site violated the national master plan for Israel's coasts, which "puts an emphasis on preserving the indigenous, unique qualities of the Gulf of Eilat.

"One of the master plan's main goals is 'preserving the value of nature in the sea and on the coast as a national resource,'" Erdan wrote. "Increasing the building's height and doing construction so close to the waterfront will damage the open landscape of the Eilat mountains and drastically increase the threat to the coral reefs."

SPNI argued that "the authorities could have approved operating a hotel in the existing building, without additional construction. Regrettably, the national [planning] council gave priority to a private developer's narrow interests instead of to the broad public interest.

"SPNI thinks Eilat's beaches are a national resource and asset, and all the planning authorities, first and foremost the national council, ought to consider coastal development initiatives accordingly," it added. "Eilat's coral reef is in constant danger from the city's massive development, and every additional hotel constructed on the southern shore could have devastating consequences to it."

The hotel, planned by the Derech Ha'arava and Marineland Dolphinarium companies, is to be built opposite the underwater observatory. An abandoned two-story commercial center is located on the site.

SPNI said the hotel would damage the coral reef in several ways. "Pesticides and fertilizers that leak into [the hotel's] water system, and thence to the sea, could kill the coral reefs," an SNPI spokesman said. "The project's lighting will disrupt the reproductive systems of the corals and other invertebrates. The drainage work could kill or cause irreversible damage to the reefs."

The Eilat municipality said in a statement that "the local planning and building committee first discussed this issue in 1999. The local committee said the abandoned structure was an environmental hazard. For this reason, the committee advised the city to agree to the real estate developer's request to add stories to the building. Several years have passed since the committee's recommendation and the structure is still abandoned. This shows the committee was right.

"Among the committee's other considerations was the fact that the site had already been rezoned for a hotel, regardless of the committee's recommendation to add stories," it added. "Moreover, the site is close to the Orchid Hotel, which was also allowed to expand."