dead sea - AP - June 28 2011
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to the Dead Sea yesterday. Photo by AP
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The government will promote a plan to harvest the salt from industrial evaporation pools near the Dead Sea, in a bid to prevent the pools from flooding the hotels at the sea's southern end, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yesterday.

The water level in the pools has been rising steadily due to the accumulation of salt.

The question of who will finance the estimated NIS 5.4 billion project - the government or the company that runs the pools, Dead Sea Works - has yet to be resolved.

Netanyahu, who spoke during a tour of the area, said he will appoint an interministerial task force to draft a detailed proposal for collecting the salt and ask it to submit its conclusions in three weeks.

"Previous governments talked about this problem, but we intend to act," he said.

Shimi Daniel, who heads a government company tasked with preserving the Dead Sea, told Netanyahu the matter is urgent.

"If the [salt] harvesting plan isn't implemented by 2017, it will no longer be possible keep raising the earthworks that protect the hotels from flooding," he said.

Dead Sea Works representatives who participated in the tour said the company is willing to bear some of the costs, but not all. Several ministers, led by Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, countered that the company should cover most or all of the costs, since it is the one that profits from extracting the sea's minerals, and the extraction process is what causes the salt to accumulate.

Dead Sea Works has applied for a permit to set up another evaporation pool, and a Finance Ministry official proposed granting this permit on condition that the company agree to finance the salt collection. But Erdan objected vehemently to this proposal.

Netanyahu said the government will try to solve the financing problem by agreement, but if it fails, "we'll consider all options, including legal ones."