Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The housing cabinet on Sunday approved a plan that will enable the extensive rehabilitation of contaminated Israel Military Industries lands and pave the way for the construction of some 70,000 apartment units.
“The housing crisis is also an opportunity to improve the environment of citizens who have lived for years near contaminated soil,” Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay said. “On this issue, we will overcome the regulator’s stance and also take steps to correct the problem.”
The government-controlled Environmental Services Company Ltd. will be tasked with clearing the former IMI site, which encompasses chunks of four local authorities: Ramat Hasharon, Herzliya, Hod Hasharon and South Sharon Regional Council.
Gabbay and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, in conjunction with the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) and the Government Companies Authority, are promoting the project to both help solve the housing crisis and enable the marketing of land following wide-scale rehabilitation, the Environment Ministry said.
To bring an end to the many regulatory delays that the project has faced over the years, the Finance Ministry has proposed declaring the Environmental Services Company, which is under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Ministry, the “operational arm” that will lead the project. This proposal necessitated a change in previous government decisions on the subject, which had assigned the Defense Ministry and the ILA to lead the project, according to the Environment Ministry.
The ministries selected the Environmental Services Company to implement the project following the firm’s successful rehabilitation work at Ramat Hovav, the ministry said. In addition, due to the firm’s status as a government company, it is subject to all of the limitations and obligations imposed about such companies, including transparency, fairness and profit and debt protection, the ministry added.
One environmental group that had previously opposed development at the IMI site due to inadequate cleanup plans approached Sunday’s decision with cautious optimism.
“The cabinet’s decision to approve the recommendation of the environmental protection minister and finance minister for land rehabilitation is an important step in the right direction,” Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) executive director Amit Bracha said.
“Land contamination by hazardous substances has become in recent years one of the most severe environmental hazards in Israel, endangering the health of people living near the contaminated land sites.”
The housing cabinet and the environmental protection minister must take steps to ensure that the cleanup is truly funded by those who contaminated the land, according to the “polluter pays principle,” he said.
Such plans must occur following a strict timetable, enabling development of residences only after rehabilitation is complete, he added.
“All this can only be achieved through a comprehensive law for the handling of contaminated soils, which is on the Knesset table, and determines, among other things, arrangements for registering polluted land and for informing those interested in the land about its contamination,” Bracha said.
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel voiced its support for the approved plans, describing the decision as “an excellent step that advances the utilization of [land] reserves for residences in areas approved for development.”