Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surveys scene of Arava oil spill.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Four months after incurring a severe oil spill, the Evrona Nature Reserve, just north of Eilat, has been reopened to members of the public.
Environmental Protection Ministry tests revealed that the reserve, located in the Arava Desert, is now free of air pollution, leading Deputy Minister Ophir Akunis to open the site to the public on Thursday. Although the reserve is now open and the air is safe to breathe, ministry officials warned that the soil still remains contaminated and is under rehabilitation.
Cleanup of the reserve and its surroundings has been ongoing since December 3, when the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company infrastructure spilled some 5 million liters of crude oil into the Arava Desert.
"The expedited and professional treatment that we gave to the reserve, immediately after the EAPC oil spill, has brought positive results so that the reserve is clean and safe," Akunis said. "Now the public is invited en masse to hike and enjoy. At the same time we are continuing monitoring and rehabilitative activities at the reserve."
Akunis was renamed deputy environmental protection minister this week with the formation of the interim government, after the ministry had been without a minister since February 11.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had assumed the role of acting environmental protection minister on November 11, two days after the resignation of former environmental protection minister Amir Peretz. While Akunis only assumed his role as deputy on December 9, due to the fact that the Basic Law stipulates that an acting minister's term can only last three months, the roles of both Netanyahu and Akunis in the environment minister expired on February 11.
Following the resumption of his position this week as deputy minister and in light of a series of tests indicating significantly decreased and stabile air pollutant values at Evrona, Akunis elected to reopen the reserve, the ministry said.
Netanyahu praised the decision to reopen the reserve, as well as the wide-scale efforts undertaken to make this possible over the past few months.
"During my visit there, a few days after the oil spill, I ordered that all actions possible be taken to ensure public safety and to make every effort to take of environmental protection," Netanyahu said. "We carried out a series of actions and we allocated the necessary resources to protect this wonderful reserve."
Stressing how many different authorities have "worked together to reverse the damage," Netanyahu particularly credited Akunis, Environmental Protection Ministry officials, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), the Israel Police, Fire and Rescue Services and the Eilat and Arava Drainage Authority.
"I call upon all citizens of Israel to return and hike in the area, and in all of the Land of Israel," the prime minister said.
The Evrona Nature Reserve is located about 20 kilometers north of Eilat and encompasses an area of approximately 40 square kilometers, the Environment Ministry said. The reserve contains a variety of unique plant and animal species, as well as archeological remains dating back 1,200 years.
"Israeli residents are invited to come to the Evrona Nature Reserve by way of marked trails and to be impressed by the unique flora and fauna in the Arava area, home to a unique climate," said INPA director-general Shaul Goldstein.
During the EAPC spill, oil flowed into the channels of the stream passing through the reserve, causing large-scale ecological damage. All in all, the contamination spread over a 7-km. route through the Arava Desert, the ministry explained. A criminal investigation into the incident is ongoing, the ministry added.