Nation's green areas under attack

New infrastructure and transportation projects pose the largest threats - SPNI report.

Jerusalem Forest 190 (photo credit: Jack Tonhaben)
Jerusalem Forest 190
(photo credit: Jack Tonhaben)
There are 93 threats to open spaces in Israel, including 25 new ones in 2010, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) declared, in a new report being released Tuesday morning.
The third annual "Threats to Open Spaces" report details ongoing as well as proposed projects.
Some of the new threats include authorizing illegal building on Mount Hermon, construction in Lod, Haifa, Netanya and Beit Shemesh, and the proposed natural gas terminal for the Tamar and Dalit sites.
The 93 sites are spread throughout the country, with the most threats, 28, in the north. New infrastructure and transportation projects represent the single biggest category of threat at 44, according to the report and its chief author, SPNI environmental planner Itamar Ben David.
The state was also responsible for more potential threats than private industry, despite passing National Outline Plan 35 which clearly lays out the grounds for conservation, according to the report.
The report also pointed out that four battles over open spaces were lost last year, but that four threats were removed and 13 other efforts looked promising.
Open spaces in the Lachish region were lost to three new planned cities, drilling for oil was allowed in the Judean Desert, the National Planning and Building Council discarded an alternative to run the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed train through a tunnel under the Judean Hills nature reserve and instead endorsed a route right through it, and in Haifa the Navy's Polinom building was given a temporary permit, even though it stands between the Bahai gardens and the sea.
A threat to Jerusalem's Valley of the Gazelles, a threat posed by the eastern part of Route 431, and a threat to the Beersheba Stream Park were averted last year. The Valley of the Gazelles was finally approved as a park after a nine-year fight. In Eilat, a garage for new cars on agricultural land at Kibbutz Yahel was also dismantled.
SPNI focused its report on biodiversity this year because the UN has declared 2010 the year of biodiversity. Israel is blessed with an astonishing array of unique plants and animals far disproportionate to its tiny size.
Open spaces serve many critical purposes above and beyond their strictly environmental value, the report notes. Many of them are tourist attractions that bring people from around the world.
Open spaces also clean the water, soak up carbon dioxide and provide oxygen from plants, the report's author wrote.
SPNI also addressed some of the proposed governmental reforms and their potential impact on open spaces. The land reform favored private developers potentially at the expense of open spaces. The proposed reform of the Israel Lands Administration itself eliminated the representatives of the public from the land allocation process in favor of government representatives.
At the same time, the reform had several advantages: declaring land a public good, setting up a fund to buy open spaces to preserve them, and clearly defining which land could be privatized.
The proposed reform in planning and building, whereby regional committees would cede their power to local committees, also posed a threat, the report's author contended. Local committees are much more vulnerable to corruption and much more tied into local politics than regional committees, making it more likely that development projects would be approved at the expense of green areas.
The report also criticized "fast-track" or secret planning processes, such as the National Infrastructures Planning and Building Committee and the Security Installations Planning and Building Committee, for the lack of public participation they created.