Israeli Green Groups, Ministry File Appeal Against Controversial Plan for Timna Valley Hotel

The project, approved last month by the southern district planning and building committee, is expected to damage the unique, primordial landscape in the Sasgon Valley region.

The Sasgon Valley.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Environmental Protection Ministry and green organizations Thursday filed an appeal to the National Planning and Building Council against a controversial plan to build a hotel near the Timna Park.

The project, which was approved last month by the southern district planning and building committee, is expected to damage the unique, primordial landscape in the Sasgon Valley region, which is part of the Timna Valley.

The appellants say the planning committee failed to consider several alternative hotel sites, despite the fact that a report the committee itself ordered recommends building the hotel in the park’s southern entrance.

The report, conducted by the Ethos Architectural Planning and Environment, described the project’s current site as the second worst alternative out of 10 it examined.

The appeal says “the Timna Valley space is rich in geological and historic natural treasures and landscape, and is set to be declared by UNESCO a world heritage site. Constituting the entire landscape in the Timna Valley, the Sasgon Valley is uninterrupted by man and accessible to all free of charge.”

Netivot Mayor Yehiel Zohar, a member of the district’s planning committee, has joined the appellants.

The appeal says the “ambitious hotel project, at the heart of unique, sensitive desert landscapethreatens to irrevocably harm the pristine Sasgon Valley environment and the Israeli public, at the expense of the next generations.”

The appellants note that half of the Timna Valley area is already being used for events and shows. They attached the planning company’s recommendation to build the project at the valley’s “southern entrance,” where it would cause the least environmental damage.

The plan, which has been staunchly supported by the Tourism Ministry, calls for building a 400-room hotel on a 400-dunam (100-acre) tract of land in the Sasgon Valley, north of Mount Timna, some 30 kilometers north of Eilat in the Arava desert. The Igra Group, which will build the hotel, insists it will be no more than three stories high and will integrate into the landscape.

But environmental activists say the area’s unique landscape should be preserved in its natural state. Moreover, they argue, the infrastructure necessary to support the hotel will cause substantial environmental damage.

The plan to build a hotel in the Sasgon Valley was approved about 10 years ago and was even presented for public opposition. But as a result of the appeal filed against the plan by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, the Be’er Sheva District Court ordered that it be reviewed in order to adapt it to the requirements of the national master plan for construction and development. As a result, many changes were made in the plan, and various alternative locations for the hotel were presented, including outside the Sasgon Valley. But last month the district committee rejected those plans.

The developer, Yoav Igra, promised after the plan was approved that it would not harm the environment. Igra rejected a possibility of building the hotel on an alternative site. “We always said that we don’t want a hotel inside a kibbutz or alongside a highway. What attracted us is the landscape, which is suitable for tourism,” he told Haaretz.

He said all the structures would be assembled before being brought to the hotel site, so no foundation work will be carried out on the premises. Also, the hotel will treat its own sewage, and the structure will fit in with the local landscape.

If the appeal against the plan is denied, the appellants are likely to file a petition against it in court.