'Gas pipeline delay taking financial and health toll'

Each day the natural gas pipeline to Haifa isdelayed costs the economy NIS 1m. and forces Haifa residents to breathemore polluted air from factories forced to use diesel instead, theNational Infrastructures Ministry says, and Minister Uzi Landau urgedPrime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to speedily resolve the issue.

Theproject has come to a halt in the Tel Kashish area between Yokne'am andKiryat Tivon on the way to the Haifa industrial area.

The problem originated because the new pipeline has beenplanned to run through private Druse-owned land in the area. The Druserefused to allow the project to go forward unless changes were made tothe route of the northern rail line planned for the area.

The Druse demanded that in return for the train running in thecenter of the planned Road 6 extension, they would allow the naturalgas pipeline to be built on their land.

An agreement to that effect was worked out betweenthe National Infrastructures Ministry, the Transportation Ministry, theDruse and the other relevant ministries earlier this year. However,when Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz assumed office, he ordered areturn of the train to its original path.

The matter was referred to the Prime Minister's Office tobroker a deal, and last week Landau sent an urgent letter to Netanyahuasking him to address the matter.

The Prime Minister's Office told The Jerusalem Postthat "the topic of the infrastructures corridor in the area is underexamination as to its legal and planning aspects. The issue isinter-ministerial in nature and we are working with all of the relevantparties to find a solution."

The Transportation Ministry refused to delineate its objectionsto the original agreement saying only "The topic is being dealt with bythe prime minister's office."

Natural gas, while still a fossil fuel, pollutes the air farless than oil or diesel. Israel has been moving to increase its use ofnatural gas for electricity production in recent years.

In addition to supplying Haifa's factories and oil refinerywith natural gas, the gas is needed for two power stations set to goonline in 2010. Every power station is critical for the steady supplyof electricity since reserves are so low at present.

Landau noted in his letter that one option was to find analternative route for the pipeline, but that such a route could delaythe project between 18-30 months.

In an attempt to bring pressure to bear, EnvironmentalProtection Minister Gilad Erdan also warned Haifa factory owners lastweek that he would not continue forever to give them a pass to burn oilor diesel instead of natural gas.