New Terminal, Old Sewage

In short, it becomes clear that, while large investments are being made in prestigious, state-of-the-art projects, the most basic environmental problems are left unsolved.

The new passenger terminal at Ben-Gurion International Airport was inaugurated last week in a lavish ceremony. The terminal is another in a series of national projects, which include roads, rail lines and facilities to produce energy, with which the government has been pushing ahead in recent years.

The opening of the new terminal is certainly good news for millions of passengers, who will at long last be able to enjoy a modern, spacious facility instead of having to cope with large crowds in small spaces. It is also a fitting opportunity to examine this project and other infrastructure plans from the environmental point of view. Such an examination refers above all to the attitude toward the environment of those who build the facilities. In short order, it becomes clear that, while large investments are being made in prestigious, state-of-the-art projects, the most basic environmental problems are left unsolved.

Thus, no advanced waste purification facility has been built for the new terminal, with the result being that it will pollute the environment. The Environment Ministry tried to make the opening of the terminal conditional on the construction of such a facility, but was rebuffed by the Transportation Ministry and the Airports Authority on the grounds that the facility was not made a requirement in the terminal's master plan. In the end, the Justice Ministry decided that the terminal would be opened and the purification facility would be built as quickly as possible.

The Israel Ports and Railway Authority spent billions of shekels on new track in metropolitan Tel Aviv and on the Modi'in and Jerusalem routes, but it did not take the trouble to ensure the proper disposal of the large amount of landfill generated by the projects. The authority's contractors simply dumped the refuse without authorization as cheaply and as conveniently - for them - as possible.

Another aspect of the environmental dimension is the unrelenting pressure applied by the government to abridge planning processes of national infrastructure projects, accompanied by unceasing accusations that the greens are sabotaging and delaying the projects without any real justification. This is one of the arguments that was cited by the government to establish a national infrastructures committee that bypasses regular planning procedures and shortens the process of obtaining approval for plans, while significantly diminishing the public's ability to raise objections.

With great effrontery, the Interior Ministry's planning directorate joined in the chorus of allegations of unnecessary delay. The directorate had vehemently opposed the establishment of the national infrastructures committee, but now its officials are pleased to have another bureaucratic body under their control. This month they accused the greens of being the cause of the committee's establishment - the greens having ostensibly accumulated much power in the planning commissions and brought about delays in projects based on a narrow and irresponsible perspective, to the point where national growth and quality of life were being adversely affected.

The case of the new terminal is only one example of the fact that the greens are not the delaying factor in these large-scale projects. They waged a struggle against the location of the new terminal, arguing that it would harm the quality of life of the local residents. But it was economic difficulties and labor disputes that brought about a significant delay in the project's completion (the terminal is opening four years later than planned).

Another example is the widening of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway in the area of Sha'ar Hagai. In this case, the greens were victorious in a legal battle against the Ma'atz public works authority. The court ruled that a detailed plan had to be drawn up for the project. The entire blame lies with Ma'atz, which insisted on trying to abridge the procedures. Had it followed the regular path of all the procedures involved in getting authorization to widen the road, the project might well have been completed by now.

Orderly planning procedures, in which public opposition is taken into account along with consideration for environmental aspects of a project, are basic obligations of democratic governments. Those who ignore them must be held accountable, not the green groups, whose task is to review plans, raise doubts and make every effort to protect nature and ensure the public's health. The task of government ministries is not to criticize green groups but to engage them in a substantive dialogue. It is not their task to abridge procedures and move immediately to the hasty and hazard-ridden implementation of projects, but to plan efficiently and thoroughly and to give thought to the project's surroundings, too.