As Erosion at Ashkelon Cliff Endangers Beach Buildings, Authorities Trade Blame

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The building that collapsed on Ashkelon beach, on June 16, 2018
The building that collapsed on Ashkelon beach, on June 16, 2018Credit: Ilan Assayag

A concrete drainage structure on a cliff north of the coastal city of Ashkelon collapsed over the winter, landing on the beach below. The incident has led to fears that additional structures could be next — a nearby scenic lookout shows signs of imminent collapse — and that the long-feared nightmare scenario of the cliff’s collapse could become a reality.

The Environmental Protection Ministry blames the Ashkelon municipality for not acting in time, a claim the city government rejects. The Interior Ministry, which should have provided the funding to protect the cliff, has given various explanations for having failed to do so.

The cliffs on the Ashkelon coast, on June 16, 2018Credit: Ilan Assayag

>>Israel Turning to Breakwaters in Bid to Stem Cliff Erosion ■ Study: Mediterranean Coastal Cliffs Eroding at Slower Rate Than Thought

The cliff, north of the city’s marina, has been in danger for years. The marina’s buildings prevent the natural movement of sand to the beach. That in turn has reduced the depth of the beach, leading to wave erosion of the base of the cliff. The flow of rainwater, meanwhile, has damaged the top of the cliff. In the past two decades, the cliff retreated 22 meters.
A few weeks ago the government company formed in 2013 to oversee all coastal cliff issues from Hadera in the north to Ashkelon in the south issued its report for 2016-17. 

The lookout point, in danger of collapse in Ashkelon, on June 16, 2018Credit: Ilan Assayag

According to the Mediterranean Coastal Cliffs Preservation Government Company, the Ashkelon shore retreated more in that period than in any time since monitoring began. Around a third of the soil erosion along the coast occurred north of Ashkelon, leading to the collapse of the drainage structure and the instability of the lookout. Fortunately the area has few hotels, but a number have been planned.

In the wake of the report, Environmental Protection Ministry Director General Israel Danziger called on Ashkelon Mayor Tomer Glam to take immediate action “before it’s too late.”

Galit Cohen, the ministry’s deputy director general for planning, said that sand-filled geotextile tubes had been installed at the beach in northern Ashkelon to prevent erosion, but added that the city government did not hold up its part of the bargain by seeing to protection of the ground. 

One reason this work has been delayed in all the coastal cities is the failure of the Interior Ministry to provide 90 million shekels ($24.8 million) to the local authorities. Interior Ministry Director General Mordechai Cohen sent a letter two weeks ago to Danziger,  the director general of the Environmental Protection Ministry, saying that the government had directed the local authorities to charge residents to pay for the necessary work. However, no legal framework has been created for doing so.

The Ashkelon city government says the claim that it has done nothing to protect the coastal cliff is false. It has been warning of the danger for 20 years, the municipality said, and in 2016, the municipality asked the Environmental Protection Ministry to use some of the money earmarked for treatment of the problem to appoint experts, but has so far received no answer.

But Interior Ministry Director General Mordechai Cohen said that the municipality has failed to take the actions it could have to stabilize the cliff, such as planting ground cover and redirecting drainage. In response, the municipality said it had spent 300,000 shekels to move a promenade from the area at risk, fenced off dangerous areas and was planning new drainage.

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