Be’er Tuviya residents protest gas plant

Erdan: Alternatives study must occur, facility should not be in crowded shopping center.

Beer tuvia residents protest gas plant 370 (photo credit: Courtesy of Beer Tuvia regional campaign)
Beer tuvia residents protest gas plant 370
(photo credit: Courtesy of Beer Tuvia regional campaign)
Hundreds of residents of Kiryat Malachi and the surrounding communities blockaded Road 40 at Kastina junction on Sunday morning, in protest of a future natural gas plant to be built in their midst – posing as disaster victims amid an ashen plume from a smoke machine.
With new Kiryat Malachi Mayor Yossi Hadad, demonstrators young and old from the region and activist organizations brought traffic to a crawl, in an attempt to draw attention to a recent government decision to approve a natural gas power plant in the Be’er Tuviya Industrial Zone.
As the Kiryat Malachi region was under rocket threat during the November conflict with Gaza, the residents are concerned that a natural gas plant situated in a populated complex that also contains ammonia tankers would be a great risk. Marching on the road, residents held various signs, including one that read “One missile is enough to kill 35,000 people.”
The demonstration comes just three days after Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan filed an appeal against a ministerial committee’s recent decision to approve the plans, calling upon the government to reduce the local population’s missile attack risk. The minister’s appeal will bring the issue back to the general cabinet for discussion and review.
“We demand the government and especially the environmental protection minister meet the challenge and ensure that this dangerous plan is changed,” said Adva Dror, the resident leading the struggle.
“Residents are unable to accept the position offered by the developer, and we will take all measures possible to maintain our lives and our security. The demonstration today is only a first minor step in the fury and resistance that will explode in the area if the location of the gas plant is not moved.”
The Ministerial Committee for Internal Affairs, Services and Local Government approved the plan’s establishment on May 5, in what residents have described as a “secretive” manner – failing to include the vote on the committee’s meeting agenda.
Residents complained that they did not hear that the decision had even occurred until a week after it was made.
The future plant in question belongs to Israel Power Management 3000 (IPM) Be’er Tuviya, and will hold 500 kilograms of natural gas split into two containers, according to the company. Local activists, on the other hand, have accused IPM of planning to hold 35 tons of gas there.
After receiving Be’er Tuviya Regional Council support in May 2006, the plant obtained a production license authorization in April 2007.
Zoning processes concluded in February 2008, and the National Infrastructures Committee received the company’s plans for the project on November 30, 2012.
While in January the Southern District Committee for Planning and Building recommended that the project not receive approval, the National Infrastructures Committee decided to okay the plan this February.
The ministerial committee granted the final approval necessary for the project on May 5 – the direct impetus for the Sunday morning protest on Road 40.
IPM has reiterated that the plant will be built according to the highest of international safety standards and that the 428- megawatt power plant presents no risk to the area. Particularly in response to Erdan’s appeal of the ministerial committee’s authorization, the company said that the plans were approved after being deemed completely safe by governmental professionals and a special investigator hired by the state.
Meanwhile, Home Front Command officials via the IDF Spokesman determined that the plant adhered to necessary regulations just a month ago, according to the company. While the Home Front Command is a separate office from the Home Front Defense Ministry, IPM executives said they found it “puzzling” that Erdan would take an opposing stance on the issue.
In response, Erdan stressed that the two offices are separate entities and do not necessarily offer the same recommendations.
Most troubling to the minister, however, was the fact that no comprehensive study of alternative locations for the natural gas plant has taken place, Erdan told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday morning.
Such an alternative study never took place because once a company acquires a license to produce electricity at a specific site, the Energy and Water Ministry typically backs the company automatically, he explained.
“If you want to work with the private sector you cannot allow those with land to come to you,” Erdan told the Post. “You should come to them.”
Meanwhile, even if the location technically meets regulations in terms of required distance from residences, there is a difference between placing a gas plant in a industrial zone with factories only and one with a crowded shopping center, according to the minister.
“We support locating a power plant inside an industrial area,” Erdan said. “When you have innocent people coming to shop, it’s totally different from people who are working in a factory and are well-trained and equipped and know where to go.” It is therefore vital in such cases for the government to launch a master plan and determine the best locations for such power plants beforehand, Erdan continued, stressing that this is the protocol he followed for constructing recycling plants in his previous role as environmental protection minister.
The Ministerial Committee for Internal Affairs, Services and Local Government – whose approval decision Erdan appealed on Thursday – is chaired by the interior minister, and also includes the finance minister, the energy and water minister, the construction and housing minister, the environmental protection minister, the immigrant absorption minister and the transportation minister. While Erdan said he was certain that Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel voted against the plan, he said that Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz abstained from the vote.
The Environmental Protection Ministry, he stressed, also abstained from the previous National Infrastructures Committee vote on the issue in February – while he was still minister – because ministry officials were divided into two camps: those who felt that the plan met regulations and those who were concerned about the lack of alternatives study, Erdan said.
The protesters, meanwhile, called upon Peretz to take responsibility as a minister for the presence of hazardous materials, and as a resident of the region for its transfer to a safer location. Demanding that the prime minister and other cabinet ministers not approve the proposed location, the residents asked that they choose one of several alternative locations in the region that they have proposed.
In response to an inquiry from the Post, Peretz’s office said that the Environmental Protection Ministry considers in principle the establishment of natural gas-operated power stations as a “correct and positive process, in the effort to reduce air pollution caused by power stations running on coal and diesel.” A wide range of professionals, including many from the Energy and Water Ministry, have appeared before the committee and denied any existence of danger to the area’s residents, the ministry explained.
“Despite this, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz decided not to support the proposal with a vote and to abstain from it, due to the fact that alternatives to the location presented were from a long time ago,” his office said.
Ariel’s office, meanwhile, did not respond with a comment by press time as to the reasons for the construction and housing minister’s negative vote.