Unpaid debts may force the closure within days of the Beit She'an waste treatment plant, which would cause sewage to flow into the Jordan River and threaten the livelihood of farmers in the area.
The operator of the plant has announced it cannot continue operating due to the debts owed by the various communities it serves in the region.
The Beit She'an Municipality owes the plant NIS 2 million, according to the environmental group Tzalul. The Emek Hama'ayanot Regional Council, comprising the small towns in the region, owes NIS 1 million for treating industrial sewage, according to Kal Binyan, the company that operates the plant.
If the debt is not paid, the plant could close as early as Thursday, causing the region's sewage to flow into the Ein Harod stream and from there into the Jordan River.
However, the northern district of the Environmental Protection Ministry warned Kal Binyan that the ministry would not permit the plant to close because of the environmental damage that would result, and would take legal steps against it if it shut down.
The Beit She'an sewage treatment plant was established under a concession by the Beit She'an Municipality, and the regional councils of Emek Hama'ayanot and Gilboa. Under the terms of Beit She'an's agreement with Kal Binyan, the city was to have deposited the money it collected from residents for sewage service in a special bank account to pay the plant for the service.
However, according to the environmental group Tzalul, no such account was ever opened and no money was transferred.
The case reached the Nazareth Magistrate's Court, which ordered the city to pay, but to no avail.
Tzalul says that the Emek Hama'ayanot Regional Council pays regularly for sewage treatment, but has not paid money it owes the plant for treating industrial waste.
The plant has already stopped removing sludge from its premises, and the material has begun to pile up.
If the plant closes, it will also mean that surrounding farming villages will not receive the purified water that they use to irrigate their produce, which could cripple them economically if the current drought continues.
"The state should shoulder the burden, and then worry about collecting the money from the local government," Dalia Tal of Tzalul said on Wednesday. "It's intolerable that government ministries know that sewage could flow into the streams and they are blaming each other. Nature is again going to pay the price for the incompetence of the authorities," Tal said.
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash ), who chairs the Knesset Environment and Health Committee, asked the interior minister and environmental protection minister to act to stop the pollution.
Tzalul asked Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and Water Authority director Alex Kushnir to intervene.
The Beit She'an Municipality said in response that it is working with Kal Binyan toward a payment plan and hoped the matter would be resolved soon. The municipality also said it is in the final stages of having its economic recovery program approved by the state, after which it will receive grants to pay its bills, among others, to Kal Binyan.
Emek Hama'ayanot Regional Council said it pays all its bills as required by law.
The Interior Ministry responded that the contract between the plant and the Beit She'an Municipality is a local matter.
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