Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon was involved with the city’s dealings with a company on his conflict of interest list. Over the past few months, Leon dealt with noise complaints from residents concerning Shapir Civil and Marine Engineering, even though the company was a client of his accounting firm before being elected mayor. He sat in on one meeting with residents and followed up.
The residents claim the city is dragging its feet in dealing with the company’s noise violations in building Route 16 at the entrance to the city, work which until recently took place around the clock. City officials say Leon’s involvement did not go beyond one meeting between residents and a company representative, which the municipality’s legal adviser said was necessary.
Leon is barred from involvement with 13 companies that had been clients of his accounting firm, including Shapir, which builds roads, bridges and other infrastructure throughout Israel. Route 16, which will become a major new entrance to Jerusalem that will include two tunnels, is being built by Shapir-Pizzarotti, a 50-50 partnership between the Israeli company and Italy’s Impresa Pizzarotti, which specializes in tunnel construction.
People living above the tunnels in the Har Nof and Yefeh Nof neighborhoods complained to the city about what they say is constant noise, shaking, damage to buildings and the sounds of explosions. In May, a report by the Environmental Protection Ministry found that the work caused noise in excess of legal limits and ordered the company to stop work on the project from 7 P.M. to 7 A.M. Nevertheless, the work continued.
On July 5, Leon met in his office with resident representatives and with Shai Lindner, the CEO of Shapir-Pizzarotti. The meeting was also attended by the city manager, the city engineer, and by former minister Benny Begin, who lives in Yefeh Nof. Leon heard the residents’ complaints and promised to take action, even though he is not meant to deal with anything in which Shapir is involved. During the ensuing weeks the work continued unabated throughout the nights. Shapir claimed that tunnel building must go on continuously and cannot be stopped at night. Nevertheless, a solution was found to stop the work on Shabbat and holidays. Shapir will get millions of shekels in bonuses if it is able to complete the construction ahead of schedule.
Around 10 days ago residents of Yefeh Nof demonstrated in front of city hall and asked opposition head Ofer Berkovitch for help. Two days later, city engineer Yoel Even wrote to Lindner, ordering him to stop the work at night. Since then the work has stopped at 11. P.M., but sources close to the project say that the company plans to resume the night work shortly.
At the same time, residents started getting phone calls, letters and even visits from company representatives, with offers to move to alternative accommodations at the firm’s expense. Residents say the accommodations on offer are not suitable and that they would be forced to sign an agreement waiving their rights to sue the company for damage done to their homes. They added that they were also asked to keep the agreement with the company a secret. The company said the offer was made out of a desire to help the residents, many of whom complain of vibrations in their homes day and night, an inability to sleep, fences that have collapsed, and external wall tiles that have fallen.
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The municipality said in response that Leon’s presence at the meeting with the Yefeh Nof residents, Lindner and other city officials took place after consulting with the city’s legal adviser, “who stated that the mayor’s presence at the meeting was necessary so long as the decisions after the meeting would be made by the professional echelons, and so it was. The city manager ordered a stop to the night work. There was no deviation from the mayor’s conflict of interest arrangement.”
Shapir-Pizzarotti said, “The assistance is being given to residents in return for their signed commitment that the solution provided by us is acceptable to them and that they have no further complaints relating to noise on Route 16. Contrary to what’s being claimed, the night work cannot be stopped, because halting the excavations for a few hours each night is a complex process that could cause safety risks to the employees and the structure of the tunnels.”