The Tourism Ministry informed the High Court of Justice last week that it is reconsidering its decision to reserve a grant of 72 million shekels ($20.5 million) for developers planning to build a hotel in the environmentally valuable Sasgon Valley in the Arava Desert. This move could impact the economic feasibility of the project and the willingness of the developers to invest in it.
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The ministry’s position was presented in a response to a petition by the Union for Environmental Defense, a nongovernment organization, against the ministry’s decision to freeze the grant given to the Agra Group for construction of the hotel. The petition argued that the Tourism Ministry exceeded its authority by freezing the grant rather than cancelling it, although the time during which it could have been used had already lapsed.
Environmental groups strongly opposed plans for a hotel in the Sasgon Valley, saying it would ruin one of the region’s most important natural sites. The opposition as well as additional petitions to the courts led to a reevaluation of the plan, leaving the developers unable to utilize the funding the Tourism Ministry had earmarked for the project.
The state’s representative said that the Tourism Ministry was revisiting its decision but did not say whether it would cancel the grant. The ministry reiterated its position to the court: It believes that the hotel in Sasgon Valley is very important for the area’s development and it remains one of its flagship projects.
The Union for Environmental Defense's attorney, Asaf Rosenbloom, objected to the state’s request that the court to cancel the next scheduled hearing on the matter.
Plans for the hotel were approved almost a year ago by the southern district planning and building committee. The Environmental Protection Ministry, environmental groups and one member of the committee then submitted an objection to the National Planning and Building Council. The council’s subcommittee discussing the objection is due to submit its conclusions in a few weeks.