Environmentalists Lose Out on Keeping 'Pearl of Nature'

A decision yesterday to build a bridge over the Yitla Stream in the Judean Hills was a major disappointment to environmental groups hoping to get the planned high-speed rail line for the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem train routed through a tunnel instead.

However, the subcommittee of the National Planning and Building Committee that made the decision will still have to persuade the full committee to adopt it next month.

The construction of a bridge instead of a tunnel, as well as a helipad in a major landscape attraction, Yitla Stream's Black Canyon, was a primary objection the subcommittee heard to plans for the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem train line.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority had proposed a tunnel under the Black Canyon to prevent damage to nature. However, the subcommittee voted by a large majority to recommend the original plan of a bridge. It based its decision on the conclusion of a team of experts that a change in plans would mean at least a two-year delay and would put the project at risk.

Most of the subcommittee also thought improvements in the bridge the team of experts suggested would minimize damage to nature. They concluded that when work was completed, the landscape could be restored.

In contrast, a researcher appointed by the Interior Ministry to examine the objections to the plan, Meir Giron, said: "The landscape will change, mainly replacing a natural valley with a restored one, a road and a helipad."

Israel Nature and Parks Authority head Eli Amitay said yesterday that the subcommittee's decision would result in "irreversible damage to one of the rare pearls of nature."

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel called yesterday's decision "anti-environmental, based wholely on the unfounded assumption that the project is at risk, when the project has long passed the point of no return."