SPNI: Netanya Failing to Protect Rare Bulbs

Netanya municipality officials held a ceremony last week meant to symbolize the city's efforts to protect the environment: Along the banks of the city's large winter rain pool, local schoolchildren planted the bulbs of the rare purple iris. The bulbs were transplanted from a nearby site slated for construction.

The city's economic development corporation said the project was being carried out jointly with ecological organizations to protect a rare natural treasure. However, according to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the goal will not be met as only a minuscule number of the rare flowers will be saved, while their main habitat will be destroyed by the construction.

Netanya has two rare natural sites, adjacent to each other. One is the Dura rain pool, one of the last of such seasonal bodies of water to survive in Israel. Next to it is a hill that was once home to one of the largest concentrations of purple irises, a species that exists only in Israel.

The Israel Lands Administration and the municipality of Netanya have promoted a large-scale construction project that will surround the rain pool, albeit leaving it intact, with three residential towers slated to be built on Iris Hill. The Union for Environmental Defense and a local resident waged a legal battle against the construction of the towers, which recently failed. The city's economic development corporation decided to transplant the irises and move ahead on construction.

"This is cosmetic work, since most of the irises won't survive," Alon Rothschild of SPNI says, basing his opinion among other things on a study by Dr. Yuval Sapir of Ben-Gurion University. "Instead of moving the bulbs, the city should have saved their habitat and prevented construction next to the rain pool, which is deteriorating," he added.

Architect Sarah Gazit, head of the city's planning department, said: "The Netanya municipality has a rain pool committee that meets from time to time and includes representatives of ecological organizations and the municipality. The committee employs experts and has issued a report mapping the plants. The transplanting of the bulbs was monitored by experts."

With regard to the rain pool, Gazit added: "Since there is no outstanding example in Israel on dealing with a rain pool, we view ourselves as a pilot to be emulated on this matter."