The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway will pass over a bridge above the Yitla Stream, despite objections by environmentalists.
The National Planning and Building Council rejected the alternative proposed by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which had suggested a tunnel be built under the stream, which is in a nature reserve in the Judean Mountains.
The planning council said a team of experts had found that building a tunnel would delay the line by at least two years. It also said the team recommended ecological restoration work, as well as altering the planned bridge to reduce its environmental impact.
The planning council also authorized paving a dirt emergency access road to the bridge, which environmental organizations say will damage the valley even further.
"The decision was made even though local and international experts showed our environmentally friendly alternative was perfectly viable, and would not significantly increase construction. Most importantly, the tunnel would not delay the construction of the line," the SPNI said in a statement. "While around the world infrastructure decisions take the environment into maximum consideration, in Israel decision-makers marginalize and ignore such concerns."
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said it was "regrettable the decision took into account only time considerations. It is clear this will not shorten the construction process, but it will most certainly damage the environment. The planning council probably forgot the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem train route is being built to last a hundred years."
The planning council also decided to authorize a landfill to collect soil displaced during the construction of the Beit Meir quarry, near moshav Mesilat Zion. The residents of the moshav have been fighting the proposal, claiming the landfill would cause pollution and respiratory diseases.
The planning council said in response that it would regulate air quality in the area.
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