Israel Bracing for Building Material Shortage

Legal problems could force state to stop mining raw materials at quarries over Green Line.

Israel's building and road construction sector will be facing a shortfall of mined raw materials by 2025, according to a document prepared for the Interior Ministry.

The document, which will form the basis of the new national master plan for quarrying and mining, will be presented to the National Planning and Building Committee for approval this week.

Beit Haggai Quarry

It was prepared by Aviv Business Consulting and A. Lerman Architects.

The new master plan, prepared along with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, will state where quarries may operate through 2040. It seeks to address construction needs while causing the least amount of damage to the environment.

The price of raw materials has only a marginal affect on the cost of housing, it states.

The demand for raw materials, such as gravel, is expected to double in the coming three decades from 48 million tons a year to 94 million tons a year. By 2025, raw materials will be lacking in the center and the north. There will be a surplus in the south, but transporting it to the center would significantly increase transportation costs.

To address this, the document proposes establishing a way of transporting materials by train.

The paper also notes that for legal reasons, Israel may not be able to use material from quarries in the territories, which are close to the center of the country. Currently, these quarries provide about a quarter of Israel's gravel, the main mined construction material.

More than a year ago, human rights group Yesh Din petitioned the High Court of Justice, calling the use of these quarries illegal under international law.

The matter is still being debated in court, but given that the court may rule against using these quarries, the document calls on the state to find "independent sources."

The demand for raw materials will continue to increase because the population is expected to continue increasing at 1 percent a year, the document states. Also, average housing sizes are expected to increase.

Therefore, the document proposes recycling up to 90 percent of building materials.

The document recommends establishing only a small number of new quarries in order to prevent environmental damage, and recommends doing so through underground mining rather than open mining.

Itamar Ben-David, head of planning at the SPNI, says the real test will be whether the document's recommendations are implemented and quarries invest in landscape restoration. "Like the soft-drink and packaging companies, the time has come for quarry owners to take responsibility for their refuse," he said.

Ben-David the document calls for setting lower levies on quarries that use more efficient methods.

Building and road construction turn over NIS 60 billion annually, or nearly 8 percent of Israel's GDP, the paper notes. In terms of road construction, raw materials are responsible for 45 percent of the construction price index. But contrary to what is commonly believed, gravel, for example, is responsible for only 5 percent to 6 percent of the housing price index. Other elements, such as the availability of land, are far more significant.