An environmental group petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday against extending the Tourism Ministry's grant for construction of a hotel in southern Israel's scenic Timna Valley.
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The 72-million-shekel ($19.4 million) grant for the project, slated to go to the Igra group, was approved in 2009 for seven years, but the plans were not finalized by the end of that period. The Tourism Ministry wants to the grant to remain valid for 10 years.
An appeal against the plan was filed nine years ago in the Be’er Sheva District Court by the same nongovernmental group, Israel Union for Environmental Defense. At that time the court instructed the southern district Building and Planning Committee to reopen discussion of the project and in December 2016, the committee approved a more limited version of the plan. However, that ruling came a year after the grant had expired.
The High Court petition filed on Sunday by IUED stated that the Tourism Ministry had exceeded its authority and “crushed the law underfoot” by approving the grant's extension more than a year after it expired. The group noted that such an extension can be granted only under extenuating circumstances and for one year only.
Before it petitioned the High Court, the environmental group sought clarifications from the Tourism Ministry regarding its decision about the grant. Tourism Director General Amir Halevi responded that the developer had gone to great efforts to meet the demands of the Planning and Building Committee but had been unable to do so, in part because of legal proceedings such as those brought forward by IUED.
In its petition, IUED rejected this argument, stating that even according to the ruling of the District Court, there were flaws in the original plan which lead the court to require the committee to revisit the issue, making changes if necessary.
The hotel is slated to be built in Sasgon Valley, a historic area with a unique landscape in the Arava Desert, near Timna Park. Renewed discussion of the project in the Planning and Building Committee included proposals of alternative sites, but the Igra group turned them down. The committee also noted that the site for the hotel included areas whose master plan did not allow for hotel construction.
The Tourism Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on this report.