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Photo by: Dov Gleenvlet/SPNI
Site approved despite environmental concerns
By SHARON UDASIN
12/18/2012
Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel decries industrial construction at rare ‘ecological island’ in Ashdod.
 
Despite over 3,000 objections submitted by the public as well as several alternative sites suggested not far from the area, the establishment of an industrial zone in the sands of Ashdod was approved on Sunday, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) announced the following morning.

The sub-committee responsible at looking at the complaints failed to accept most of the objections filed by members of the public, SPNI and the Public Forum for the Environment in Ashdod, according to SPNI.

In response, the groups are evaluating the decision and considering taking further action. For years, the two organizations have been promoting areas north of the city, just a few kilometers from the sands, to establish the industrial area instead.

“The establishment of a new industrial zone, in the sand dunes, reduces the open spaces and nature, which are a habitat for a wide variety of animals and plants,” a statement from SPNI said.

The plant that will suffer perhaps the most will be the sycamore tree, which is actually among trees promoted for preservation from Gush Dan to Ashkelon, according to the group.

“The coastal dunes, on which the industrial zone is planned in Ashdod, are a unique living environment, unparalleled in Israel,” the SPNI statement continued. “The uniqueness is due to a rare combination of factors that create an ‘ecological island,’ in which dry soil conditions exist in a Mediterranean climate. Most of the sand areas in Israel have already been utilized for the construction of coastal cities, the development of industry and for military installations. The remaining sand is being mined rapidly as raw materials for building, and therefore, it is necessary to preserve what is left.”

Dr. Boaz Shacham, of the Hebrew University’s Department of Evolution, Systematics and Ecology, told The Jerusalem Post that the Nitzanim- Ashdod sands region “has immense ecological value, and represents historically the biodiversity and landscape diversity of coastal Israel.”

Shacham submitted an expert opinion to the committee to this effect in June. In the region, for example, is the Buxton’s jird – an endangered rodent that is actually endemic to Israel and the Sinai area, according to Shacham. Likewise, several reptile species in the region also face a similar danger of extinction.

“At nearly 21 square kilometers, it is the largest surviving block of sandy habitats of what in the past were circa 500 square kilometers of such habitats, at the turn of the 20th century,” Shacham said.

“Today less than half of these areas remain today, and less than 50% of the remnants are protected areas.”

At the moment, the northeast corner of the sands, where the new industrial area is planned, is relatively buffered due to the groves of sycamore and acacia trees that surround it, he explained. The development, however, will “invade these buffer zones, rendering them almost useless as sanctuary for birds and gazelles,” Shacham added.

By removing the trees, the developers will likely cause what Shacham calls a “hopscotch leap of various threats and ill effects” to the protected sands. Some of these effects will include stray domestic and wild predators, artificial illumination at night and noise pollution, he said.

“There is a difficult conflict of interests at play here,” Shacham stressed. “We are trying our best to represent the natural resources, which should of course be protected and passed on to future generations.”

In response to the situation, Yossi Lahmani, CEO of the firm Abu Yechiel that is developing the land, said that “if you repeat the lie a thousands times it doesn’t make it true.” Lahmani said that there were really only two objections and not actually 3,000, and that the company has been working on its plans for eight years rather than one year, in order to properly address environmental concerns.

“It took eight years instead of one year just because of the consideration of all the environmental issues, which were finally settled with the Environmental Protection Ministry and [Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund],” Lahmani said.

“Everyone is happy and satisfied.”

He noted that even the person responsible for submitting the SPNI objection was now satisfied, as the company coordinated everything with him.

Stressing that eight binders were filled with 400 objections each, an SPNI spokesman said that there were, in fact, 3,000 objections and at least two ecological experts likewise submitted reviews to the committee about the importance of the land.

“SPNI will continue to work to protect the Ashdod sand dunes,” the spokesman said.
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