State: Dead Sea Works Must Pay for Damage to Area

Assistant district attorney Avi Licht, who published the document, also determined that the industries have to increase the portion of their profits they pay the state.

The Dead Sea mineral works on the southern Dead Sea shore must pay most of the cost of protecting the area's hotels from the rising water level in its evaporation pools, the attorney general's office has announced.

Assistant district attorney Avi Licht, who published the document, also determined that the industries have to increase the portion of their profits they pay the state.

Licht had been asked to state his office's legal opinion as to how funding should be divided in the salt-harvesting project that will keep the evaporation pools from overflowing and flooding the hotels.

The Dead Sea Works belongs to ICL, which is owned by the Ofer Brothers. It operates on the basis of a franchise that the state gave them to exploit Dead Sea minerals until 2030.

Licht notes in his opinion that the cost of harvesting the salt until the end of the franchise period will be NIS 3.76 billion.

In his opinion, Licht has adopted the principle set out by the Environmental Protection Ministry that "the polluter pays" - since the Dead Sea Works created the hazard, it must pay most of the cost of the solving the problem.

Licht also said that the Dead Sea Works, like any other manufacturer, must take responsibility for the environmental damage its manufacturing causes.

"Even if the activity cannot be seen as pollution in the ordinary sense, it still creates an environmental hazard and a real risk to various public interests," he stated.

Licht also noted that harvesting the salt will save the Dead Sea Works major costs in terms of having to continually build containment berms to prevent the rising water from overflowing. But the government must also take part in funding the harvesting operation, Licht's opinion also stated, since the state also has an interest in maintaining the level of the pool steady in order to maintain tourism.

Negotiations should be allowed, and the state should be given some leeway. Nevertheless, if negotiations fail, legislation may be enacted forcing the industry to pay.

Licht also addressed the royalties the Dead Sea Works pays, although this was not part of his brief.

He noted that although the natural resources under exploitation belong first and foremost to the public, the public's part in the industry's profits was declining.

Thus, over the past decade, ICL has issued $3.9 billion in dividends to its shareholders, while the public received only $303 million.

Licht conceded that this situation came about partly because of pledges given in the past by government ministers to the purchasers of the Dead Sea Works not to increase the royalties they pay. They did so partly to make the company more attractive to purchasers.

Legally, it is difficult to undo these pledges, Licht said. He therefore proposed levying a tax on profits above a certain figure, similar to the system recently determined for producers of natural gas and oil.

Licht said his proposal must be studied more deeply before it is implemented.

The Dead Sea Works responded that Licht "clearly prefers that the issue of the salt harvesting be resolved by consensus between the Dead Sea Works and the state, [and] that although he proposes that most of the cost be borne by the Dead Sea Works, he confirms that some of the cost should be borne by the state and other bodies responsible for the Dead Sea."