Future Unclear for Big Environmental Cleanup at Israeli River

EnGlobe Corp. began dredging the polluted waterway last year; will it leave the Environmental Protection Ministry high and dry?

Abdallah Shama

A Canadian company that began cleaning the badly polluted Kishon River, south of Haifa, last year is planning to significantly reduce its involvement in the project.

It is not yet clear who will replace the company and how the interruption will affect the rehabilitation of the waterway.

Three years ago, after an international tender was issued, the Environmental Protection Ministry awarded the cleanup project to EnGlobe Corporation.

The work involves removing large amounts of contaminated soil from the riverbed and increasing the drainage capacity of the Kishon, after nearby factories significantly reduced the amounts of pollutants they introduced into the river.

The project’s scope was unprecedented in Israel, which is why the ministry repeatedly stressed that the Canadian firm, which operates worldwide in soil, materials and environmental engineering, has extensive experience in cleaning streambeds.

It is also one of Israel’s most expensive environmental projects, with a price tag that is seen as likely to exceed 200 million shekels ($51 million). Some of the funding is coming from the factories that contributed to the Kishon’s contamination, with the rest paid by the state and local governments.

The plan was to dry up part of the Kishon stream, along the section near the oil refineries, and dig an alternate channel through which the stream would flow. Near this section installations were erected to take in the contaminated soil and purify it. The plan was that after various treatment processes, the soil would be the base of a park to be built at the site. One of the important parts of the projects was the operation of a laboratory that could monitor the quality of the treated soil. The dredging of the streambed was slated to take a year and a half.

Eight months ago, then-Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz and senior EnGlobe executives held a festive groundbreaking ceremony for the project, work on which continued through the summer.

But in recent weeks it has emerged that, apparently because of financial disputes, EnGlobe plans to reduce its involvement in the project and assign some of the work to Israeli contractors.

The Canadian company did not respond to inquiries. In a statement, the project administration said, “The Canadian company continues to be part of the national project to rehabilitate the Kishon River. At the same time the management has decided to begin expedited negotiations to reduce its involvement while trying to avoid undermining the project’s objectives and to avoid exceeding the threshold of soil contamination and the budget while completing the project on time.”

It isn’t clear how the reduction of EnGlobe’s involvement will affect the project, nor have the legal implications of the change been determined.