SPNI Report: Despite Campaigns, Open Spaces Are Continuously Under Threat

Threats include a plan to build a bridge over one of the Galilee's most scenic rivers, the erection of dozens of electricity poles close to the Haifa coastline as part of an electric railway project.

Environmental organizations, assisted by residents' groups from various parts of the country, managed last year to block dozens of building plans that threatened natural areas. Nonetheless, an annual report on threats to open spaces presented yesterday by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel shows that such threats continue to grow. Among others, the threats include a plan to build a bridge over one of the Galilee's most scenic rivers, the erection of dozens of electricity poles close to the Haifa coastline as part of an electric railway project, and the building of a new marina on the beach in Netanya.

The report, summarizing events in 2010, includes a list of 98 threats posed to open spaces, a quarter of which arose last year. More than 20 of the threats, including the establishment of a vacation village on Palmahim beach and the construction of a road in the Nahal Alexander region, were nullified last year.

SPNI officials fear it will be much more difficult to deflect such threats in the future, should a new planning and construction law under consideration in the Knesset be passed. The SPNI environmentalists believe that the law will strengthen the ability of governmental ministries to promote construction projects hastily, without public input.

The new list of threats includes plans to expand cities and villages to the detriment of open spaces. These include Rehovot, El'ad and Kiryat Ya'arim, and also the establishment of new communities and cities in Wadi 'Ara and the Arad Valley. SPNI is also concerned about major environmental damage posed to coastal areas. This includes a new neighborhood on the Ashdod coastline, roads around Caesarea and a new marina in Netanya in what is currently a public beach. The marina project would cover 600-800 meters of coastline, the SPNI report notes.

Israel Ports and Railways Authority plans to erect dozens of electricity poles on Haifa's coastline, as part of a project for electric-powered rail travel, rather than pollution-causing diesel fuel. This project will cause "tremendous environmental damage," claims the report. "The limited access available today between Haifa and the coastline will be yet more restricted," should this project go ahead. The Interior Ministry's national committee for the protection of coastal areas recently articulated opposition to this plan.

Other new threats include tourist attractions such as the establishment of a huge rope bridge over Kziv Stream. This bridge project, initiated by the Ma'ale Yosef regional council, will extend 500 meters and pass through a nature reserve. The report claims that the rope bridge will scar the area's scenic view, and bring an excessive number of visitors to the reserve. Also, the Ramat Hanegev regional council is promoting a plan for the construction of a holiday village, a convention center and a restaurant in the "lost city" desert site, which is located in a river channel west of Kibbutz Sde Boker.

Israel Ports and Railways Authority Deputy Director General Yaron Ravid said yesterday in response to the SPNI report: "Looking at the broad environmental picture, the green organizations have no reason to object to the plan for electric powered rail travel. It will lessen air pollution, and increase the railroad's reliability and enhance its services. We don't deny that there will be poles visible in the area, but all local agencies can be involved in the planning and positioning of these poles."

The Netanya municipality relayed: "Under a government decision, we will in the coming days begin to work on new plans for Netanya's beaches, with the public's involvement. The issue of the marina will be examined on a national level, by planning institutions that have yet to adopt and submit alternatives.

Shmuel Rifman, head of the Ramat Hanegev regional council, relayed: "The SPNI falsifies the data and misleads the public regarding the 'lost city.' This is an area designated for tourism development and the project will feature ancient agricultural methods, with a small number of guest houses."

Ma'ale Yosef regional council head Avi Krampa said: "We will continue to promote the rope bridge project, and we will continue discussions with the SPNI - and try to persuade it that the project will not cause damage to the environment."