After almost 50 years in which the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company has had exclusive use of some of Eilat’s beaches, part of that coastline will now be returned to the public and designated as a nature reserve. The decision was made two weeks ago by an interministerial committee set up to examine EAPC’s use of land near Eilat.
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The committee, headed by the Environmental Protection Ministry, was established after a major oil leak from one of EAPC’s pipelines polluted the Evrona Nature Reserve last December. Its mandate included examining EAPC’s use of its facilities in Eilat, and its conclusion was that while the company does occasionally still take delivery of fuel containers there, it does so much less often than in the past.
The beach that will be returned to the public is adjacent to one of EAPC’s wharves and about 200 meters long. EAPC did not object in principle to giving up part of the coastline, though both the company and the Energy and Water Resources Ministry argued that it must also preserve its ability to accept deliveries of oil or natural gas in Eilat.
EAPC has three compounds in the Eilat area – two wharves where tankers can anchor, a fuel storage terminal near the shore, and another storage terminal in Ramat Yotam, west of Eilat. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority had previously tried to reach an agreement with EAPC to turn some of its coastal land into a nature reserve, but that plan never got off the ground.
Because EAPC’s coastal facilities were designated as closed areas where swimmers and divers weren’t allowed to go, the coral reefs near the beach that will be returned to the public are in excellent condition. The committee therefore decided that the beach should be designated as a nature reserve, as part of Israel’s effort to preserve its coral reefs. Nevertheless, EAPC will maintain some infrastructure near the beach, and will be able to use it in exceptional cases.
The Environmental Protection Ministry estimates the damage caused by the public’s inability to use the beach over the last five decades at tens of millions of shekels.
The committee also agreed to look into plans to return some of EAPC’s land near Ramat Yotam to the public, since the company no longer uses the entire area. If these plans are ultimately adopted, this area, too, would become part of a nature reserve.