Hadera's lost lagoons

While ambitious plans for Hadera's water park and creek have come and gone, old enemies - environmentalists and 'serial polluters'- have come together.

By DANIELLA ASHKENAZY
September 17, 2008 15:09
Hadera's lost lagoons

Hadera lagoon 88 224. (photo credit: Daniella Ashkenazy 88 224)

 
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The little-known 750-dunam Hadera Water Park, located between Givat Olga and the Orot Rabin Power Plant, offers Sharon residents a park that boasts a 40-meter-wide creek banked by a 1.3-kilometer-long promenade. The walkway is studded with decorative columns and pergolas and a bubbling fountain. In fact, the park is a world first - a unique hydraulic engineering project that brought dyed-in-the wool enemies - environmental activists and "serial polluters" at the coal-powered Rabin plant - together. The two sides concocted a win-win solution for the polluted Nahal Hadera (Hadera Creek) whose stench - especially at night - had for decades informed motorists on the Coastal Highway that they were halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Most river reclamation projects begin at the headwaters and work downstream. The Nahal Hadera Park put the cart before the horse, using a one-of-a-kind circulation system to rehabilitate the creek's last 1.3-km. stretch, where it meets the Mediterranean Sea. The designers siphoned off and rerouted four percent of the warm seawater expelled by the cooling system of the Orot Rabin Power Plant's giant turbines and channeled 6,000 cubic meters of warm seawater per hour through two-meter-wide pipes to a point upstream. The warmed seawater gushes out into the watercourse, "flushing" out the last section of the creek, which has been widened and had its banks reinforced. There was no ecological conflict of interests in flushing a watercourse with seawater; the watercourse's natural gradient is so lethargic it compounds pollution in the creek. In fact, seawater naturally penetrates a full 10 km. inland - layers of sand and clay prevent it from seeping into the coastal aquifer. The northern bank of the Hadera Park is another win-win arrangement for the greens and the Israel Electric Company (IEC). An artfully landscaped 17-meter-high escarpment stands between the watercourse and the power plant. It not only masks the plant's dull hum and shields from view most of the plant's superstructure, but also serves as a giant "ashtray." Under a thin patina of the rust-red sandy soil that typifies the Sharon area lie the embankment's steel-gray innards - a gigantic waste dump for 620,000 cubic meters of coal ash. Until 1998, Israel simply dumped its coal ash 70 kilometers offshore, close to a million metric tons annually. Such an amount was far beyond recycling capacities of the Coal Ash Authority, established in 1993. Back in 1978, when the power plant was chartered, the IEC was legally bound to build a park to compensate the public for the negative impact of its coal-burning power plant. Two decades went by without any progress. In the late 1990s, environmentalists joined forces with the IEC, aiming to help the plant solve its coal ash problem. The greens, for their part, sought to "borrow" the water force and heat generated in making electricity and apply it in an unheard-of manner for recreational use. Environmentalists hoped that reclaiming the mouth of the creek could help them save the rest of it. The IEC provided $4 million in backing - the lion's share of the $6m. needed to finance the first stage of the Nahal Hadera Water Park. On the surface, construction looked like a walk in the park. But according to JNF engineer Emanuel Kaufstein, who led the project, a high water table - only 1.5 meters below the surface - made laying the pipes, not to mention stabilizing the mammoth ramp, an engineering feat he likens to "building a huge structure on margarine." While Kaufstein is proud of his achievement, he has watched with frustration as Stage Two of the project - which was supposed to be its crowing glory - has failed to materialize. The Hadera Water Park was supposed to deal with the power station's unmanageable quantity of coal ash in exchange for the plant providing water power to flush effluents out of the mouth of the creek. The original plan also called to create the biggest jacuzzi on the face of the earth - three giant warm water lagoons that, like the Hadera watercourse, were to be fed with warm seawater expelled by the power plant. After cooling the turbines, the temperature of the warm seawater is 10 degrees Celsius above sea temperature at any given time - allowing year-round operation of a one-of-a-kind water park that could serve as a model for others. In Stage One, the infrastructure and the huge piping for the lagoons was laid under the channel. The complex circulation system already in place can take another six percent (10,000 cubic meters an hour) of the sea water used as a coolant by the power plant to the south bank earmarked for the three large lagoons. Because the lagoons were to be higher than the riverbed, they would have been maintenance-free - constantly replenished with warm water, emptying automatically back into the riverbed and creating three gigantic bathtub-temperature jacuzzis that would have dwarfed an average Olympic-size swimming pool. Stage Two, which was to have been financed by commercial franchises who would operate the lagoons and other attractions, was expected to commence two years after completion of Stage One in 2002. More than halfway through 2008, there's no sign of the jacuzzis, or of the planned restaurants, riding stable, amphitheater, hiking trails and camping facilities. According to Nurit Shtorch, deputy director of the Environmental Protection Ministry's northern district, the three lagoons "lacked any statutory anchor," meaning the plan had not been approved by the regional planning and building committee. JNF spokeswoman Michal Marmary says the jacuzzi scheme "was [changed] long ago by a new planner assigned to the project." The lagoons have disappeared from regional planning documents without a trace. Not even the ministry employee in charge of the Hadera project was aware that infrastructure for their construction existed. Chagit Golani, CEO of Hadera's Economic Development Corporation since 2005, had never heard about the lagoons, either. When pressed, park manager Yossi Turgeman said proudly that the pipes were being used to operate the Bubbling Water Fountain on the creek's southern bank. (See photo) In May 2005, the Environmental Protection Ministry triumphantly announced that completion of Park Hadera was going ahead. Stage Two had been approved, and an agreement between the Hadera Municipality and the Finance and Environmental ministries to expropriate 80 percent of the 690 dunams of land between the park and Givat Olga (which was rezoned for recreational use in 1983) would leave 20% in the hands of private owners. A financing memorandum to the tune of $11m. was in place to compensate land owners and complete Stage Two of the Park, said a ministry press release. Shtorch says the funding exists - $8m. from the ministry and $3m. from the city of Hadera. Golani insists no one has come forward to cover the $9m. needed for compensation and development announced in 2005. Money aside, both Shtorch and Golani agree that nothing can be done until the land is assessed, a development plan is legally adopted, and the property owners are compensated for the expropriation of their land - a process that could take at least another five years. Consequently, development has been curtailed to some 10% of the land hugging Nahal Hadera. The access road has been repaved and a park office - a modest mobile affair with public bathrooms - is open. An April 2008 ministry report said that even the footbridge over the creek that was supposed to have been built in 2005 was "[still] on the drawing boards." Kaufstein - now retired - categorically rejects claims that the lagoons were too ambitious and would be costly to operate. All the costly and complex infrastructure is in place, he says. A Hadera resident, Kaufstein has watched his "baby" - the lagoons - languish, if not go down the drain, and charges that the problem is not financing per se, but a lack of leadership and vision on the part of Hadera's city elders. Golani rejects that charge. Green groups now object to the lagoon concept - a reflection of shifting environmentalist philosophy. Ecologists today oppose changing natural ecosystems, she explains. "Embracing" rather than conquering nature doesn't mesh with transforming sand dunes into the biggest jacuzzi on earth. The 500-meter stretch of dunes between the Hadera Water Park and Givat Olga is no longer viewed as a desolate patch of turf waiting for a makeover. Shtorch says that ministry policy stipulates that the dunes south of the park's access road remain open green spaces; a good part of the northern sector is a natural habitat for cyclamen and two JNF eucalyptus groves are a popular winter site for migrating cormorants and other waterfowl. Thus, development where the lagoons were supposed to be must remain very modest, says Shtorch. Whatever the reason the jacuzzi concept has gone down the tubes, one thing is clear. The Hadera Water Park - even without Kaufstein's lagoons - undoubtedly constitutes a technological and psychological breakthrough. There is no other site in the world where warmed water generated by turbine cooling systems is utilized for recreational purposes. Second, the project brought together environmentalists and an electric power manufacturer, resulting not only in an out-of-the-box park, but also mobilizing water, energy and pollutant materials as positive resources. Creative engineering, coupled with a "half-full" philosophy, has generated maximum good out of some of the unavoidable ills of modern living, rather than the "all-or-nothing" approach that often typifies environmental struggles.

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