Municipal group urges gov't to consider environmental risks to halting construction projects

Municipal group urges go

The Municipal Environmental Protection Association (MEPA) is urging government to consider infrastructure projects that are critical to environmental protection when enforcing the settlement freeze, and allow these developments to go ahead. MEPA Director-General for Judea Nitzan Levi and Director-General for Samaria Itzche Meyer have written a letter to Environmental Protection Minister, Gilad Erdan, detailing the environmental damage they claimed the government's settlement freeze could cause. In the letter, which was sent on Sunday, Meyer and Levi asked the government to consider the environmental effects of postponing construction of critical infrastructure projects during the 10-month moratorium. The settlement freeze, which was announced by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on November 25, includes all new Jewish building projects in Judea and Samaria. "If the freeze continues, it should not include projects connected to environmental protection, which benefit both Palestinians and Israelis," Meyer told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "There shouldn't be a problem. The government can free infrastructure projects [from the conditions of the building freeze], but we are worried that they won't." The letter explains, "Many municipal authorities in the Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria are planning on building or updating environmentally-friendly infrastructure, which include sewage treatment facilities and infrastructure, bio-gas treatment of landfills and stations for construction, demolition and trimmed foliage waste, and the like. These infrastructure projects are indisputably important in preventing hazard." Meyer and Levi also gave examples of two projects that would cause significant environmental damage if not started immediately - one in Efrat, south of Jerusalem, and the other in Ariel, a large settlement in Samaria. According to Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, plans have been underway for a year to replace the sewage pump, which is outdated and constantly breaking. The project, in its final stages of approval, is now in danger of being halted all together. If that sewage runs down into the Be'ar Wadi, which separates Efrat from route 60, it would not only cause significant environmental damage, it could also pose a health hazard. "The fear is that due to the restriction orders, we won't be able to do the work we need to do according to the Environmental Administration's standards," Revivi told The Jerusalem Post. He added, "I hope that the government has enough sense to differentiate between political actions and health hazards." The second project is to construct a sewage system from Ariel to Rishon Lezion. The project, which has been in the planning stages for five years, has already been approved by the government. It would cost about NIS 45 million, most of which the federal government would fund, according to Meyer. Ariel currently relies on a sewage system built over 25 years ago for about 8,000 residents. Today, Ariel includes 18,000 residents with another 10,000 students. Meyer stressed the immediacy of the project in Ariel, noting that about 40 percent of the country's fresh water comes from the mountain aquifer in Samaria. Without an efficient sewage system, sewage would seep into the ground, polluting the water. At the end of the letter Meyer and Levi requested the government train overseers to monitor illegal waste dumping in Samaria. According to Meyer, instead of paying the high cost of dumping garbage in organized landfills outside the Green Line, it has become common practice to drive trucks into Palestinian towns at night and dump waste in illegal and environmentally damaging sites, at a much cheaper price. When this practice was officially outlawed last year, MEPA requested the government train officials to oversee the law's enforcement. The government said it could not find the money to train such overseers. In the letter, the MEPA directors suggest that the 60 overseers being trained to monitor the settlement freeze also be trained to monitor the transport of waste outside of the Green Line. Erdan and the ministry have yet to respond to the letter.