The Israel Lands Authority must create a more comprehensive vision for protecting the nation’s remaining open beaches and reexamine outdated construction plans that threaten to harm the coastal environment, the State Comptroller’s Report indicated.

Israel’s coast extends about 196 kilometers along the Mediterranean, 56 kilometers along the perimeter of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) and 14 kilometers along the Red Sea in Eilat. Over the years, however, the Mediterranean coast particularly has become home to a vast array of harbors, breakwaters, hotels, homes, military bases, power plants and other facilities – leaving only 53 kilometers of open, natural beach, the report explained.

Despite the fact that a 2004 Law for Preservation of Coasts exists to protect much of the remaining untouched coast, many projects that were approved prior to that year are still, quite problematically, receiving undisputed building permits, the state comptroller stressed.

During the 1980s a number of laws regulating beach building began to appear, including Tama-13 Kinneret (Partial National Master Plan for beaches in the Kinneret area) in 1981 and Tama-13 for the Mediterranean (Partial Master Plan for Mediterranean beaches) in 1983. The turn of the century, however, prompted more stringent policies toward handling the country’s remaining cost, causing the Protection of the Coastal Environment Law to emerge in 2004 and the Protection of the Kinneret Coastal Environment Law in 2008, the report explained.

Problematically, however, many of the beachside projects approved prior to 2004 still have yet to be built, and some continue to receive permits without reexamination, the state comptroller said.

The report therefore examined the activities related to this matter in the ILA, the Interior Ministry’s planning administration, relevant local authorities, the Tourism Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry.

One plan that the report examined closely is a tourism, recreation and sports center on the Kinneret beach, which was approved in May 2000 and is slated to be built within 50 meters of the coast. The 2004 law, incidentally, prohibits building within 300 meters from the coast.

According to the May 2000 approval, the Kinneret complex would need to be built by 2005, yet the ILA published a tender for the project only in 2007, and only in February 2008 – approaching the approval procedures for the Kinneret Coastal Preservation Law – did the ILA provide a lease to the company that won the tender.

The construction firm was supposed to complete the design and apply for a building permit within six months, yet it still had not done so by December 2012 – the completion of the state comptroller audit period, the report noted.

“It is appropriate that ILA will reexamine the old program and will prepare a comprehensive plan for the Kinneret beaches that will examine the fitness of the late and the fittingness of the project to this plan,” the report said.

Another beachside development project that the state comptroller slammed involved various individual plans to erect hotels, housing units and parking lots along the Carmel Coast – particularly the 9.5-kilometer stretch from Neveh Yam to Dor Beach.

Replete with nature and landscape, this beach stretch can thrive only if the region maintains a continuum of open spaces and natural habitats – otherwise known as “ecological succession,” according to the state comptroller.

Deciding whether to approve coastal projects in this region therefore requires a comprehensive regional vision, the report declared. Nonetheless, by the time the state comptroller audit ended, some of the plans had already been approved and others are still awaiting approval.

“Sometimes plans do not match new needs and a new planning vision, because since their preparation, legislative changes have been applied and new insights have formed,” the state comptroller said.

In light of this, the ILA and its management must initiate a comprehensive discussion on the generation of a coastal policy that is more fitting to the times, the report continued.

To date, the ILA has not done so, even though it was expressly asked to do so, following a special State Comptroller’s Report on the state of Palmahim Beach in 2009.

The ILA “must take into account planning principles anchored in the interests of the public, preserving open spaces and beaches for the greater public,” the state comptroller said.

In response to the report, the ILA said that it will study the recommendations in depth and draw conclusions as necessary. However, there is significant reform currently underway in the ILA regarding both the reexamination of obsolete beach development plans and the importance of ensuring public interest, the authority said.

“The Israel Lands Authority will continue to work toward managing, planning and preserving the nation’s land,” the authority added.

For its part, the Interior Ministry responded that its planning administration is currently working on upgrading the Tama-13 Kinneret policy to reflect a design concept that matches the needs of today and is more comprehensive in its outlook toward eliminating and adding resorts. Meanwhile, the planning administration is also examining the Tama-13 Mediterranean policy in order to determine whether there is a need to update this as well, the ministry said.

Calling the State Comptroller’s Report “a wake-up call,” MK Dov Henin (Hadash) said he planned to advance a law for protecting beaches against old plans through the Knesset.

“We are only left with a small part of coast free from building and environmental destruction,” Henin said. “If we do not fight for what remains today, no beaches will remain for us in the future.”

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