Council Halts Zin Cleanup as Further Damage Claimed

Ramat Negev Regional Council issues injunction stopping work because it says that limited authority granted to clear polluted area used by Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company and company dealing with the pollution to set up biological treatment installation in the area.

The rehabilitation of the Nahal Zin nature preserve, which was damaged by a fuel leak from the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company, has been stopped because of a dispute between the various groups dealing with the issue.

The Ramat Negev Regional Council issue an injunction stopping the work because it says that the limited authority granted to clear the polluted area was used by EAPC and the company dealing with the pollution to set up an biological treatment installation in the area.

Nahal Zin - Eli Hershovitz - June 2011
Eli Hershovitz

EAPC and the pollution treatment firm say they have acted in line with instructions they received and that they did not lay any infrastructure for the installation.

The regional council says EAPC had been given permission for early treatment of the polluted ground, which included moving earth from Nahal Zin to the Ramat Hatziporim quarry, near the polluted site.

Following sifting of the earth, the part which was not polluted would be returned to the stream.

The next stage in the treatment of the pollution would be to move the polluted soil to a biological treatment installation, but the regional council maintains that the company dealing with the pollution on behalf of EAPC had begun to set up the infrastructure for such an installation at the quarry, even though it had not been issued permits for such work.

The council claims that establishing a biological treatment installation has "ecological implications on the area, on the Bedouin living in the area, on the residents of Midreshet Ben-Gurion, and the farms, and could have a polluting effect on the water table."

Haaretz reported last month that the soil was meant to be removed to the Efa waste site, however the managers of the site asked for a price that EAPC considered to be too high, and this led the firm to look for an alternative.

In a discussion held in the Knesset over the issue of the pollution, it was argued that a conflict of interests exists in the matter since the manager of the soil evacuation project on behalf of EAPC, Dr. Rafi Mendelbaum, is a partner in the Ramat Hovav soil pollution treatment company, which is a competitor of the company operating at the Efa site.

Mendelbaum noted that his company is not involved in the removal of the soil.

He said that "no biological treatment has been done at the site. We only separated the polluted soil. The infrastructure at the site is suitable for sifting the soil. This work was approved by the leadership of the [Regional] Council and by the Environmental Protection Ministry. Since there are all sorts of political and other interests involved, things were taken out of context and damage was caused to the environment, but I assume that things will be put in order in the coming days. I will say this clearly - we are experts in this field and have been doing it for years. "

EAPC said that the company "is working quickly and efficiently and is investing many resources to restore the situation to its original state. The local committee gave written permission allowing the cleaning process to take place at the site, however a few days later it went back on its decision arguing that it was a matter for the district committee to decide. EAPC is waiting for decisions and will take action in line with the instructions it receives, first and foremost from the Environmental Protection Ministry."