Two national planning bodies have recently approved an expansion plan for Haifa Port that will dramatically change the look of the city and Haifa Bay in the years to come. Expansion of the port could be critical to the Haifa Municipality's attempts to revitalize the area at the foot of Mount Carmel known as the Lower City. However, concerns over possible environmental implications have been voiced by activists and official bodies.
The National Building and Planning Council and the Coastal Environment Protection Committee have both approved the Israel Ports Development & Assets Company's plan to develop the port. According to plans, the Haifa cargo port will be moved from its current location and a large dock for shipping containers will be built north of the current port, behind which will be a dock for offloading chemicals and fuel.
The military port will also be moved to the new dock. A breakwater will also be built near the new docks and the current breakwater will be extended.
Israel Ports also has plans to build a large storage area for containers next to the port, in an area that is currently almost completely empty and neglected. "We must have these areas to provide services at the level required, but even now we are competing with others who are building storage and services structures here, although it is the only area at our disposal," Israel Ports CEO Shlomo Brieman said.
The plan will potentially benefit Haifa's Lower City because it will permit access to the port as a tourist and entertainment zone. After the plan was approved by the coastal environment committee last week, Mayor Yona Yahav said it was "an important step to ensure the centrality of the Haifa port, which will have a dramatic impact on the north of the country in general, and on the city in particular."
As part of the approval process, Israel Ports was required to conduct an environmental impact survey, one of the most extensive such surveys conducted in recent years. The company conceded that the port's expansion would constitute "a break in the visual continuity of the water, particularly impacting the view from the Carmel ridge and the Kiryat Haim beach."
The author of the environmental impact survey, Varda Shafir, said that 35,000 cubic meters of sand blocked off south of the breakwaters would have to be scooped up and poured out on the beaches of the Haifa Bay suburbs (north of the city.)
Shafir said direct damage to the ecologically significant underwater calcareous limestone ridges in the Haifa Bay would only ensue where a channel was dredged leading to the port. A study by the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute shows these ridges to be extensively inhabited by invasive species from the Red Sea that have already pushed out local species.
According to the survey, the port expansion would not damage water quality in the bay or the Kishon river that flows into it. However, the Kishon River Drainage Authority is not convinced and has asked for another survey.
Environmental groups say the area behind the port should be developed for a variety of urban needs, not just container storage. In a position paper prepared by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the group called for "suitable environmental compensation for Haifa in the form of a park next to the Kishon."
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