Peres rep slams 'green' criticism of Red-Dead canal project

Environmentalists launched campaign calling for in-depth evaluations before any groundwork is laid.

Dead Sea good 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dead Sea good 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
President Shimon Peres's adviser for regional affairs, Baruch Spiegel, is perplexed by the skepticism evinced by environmental groups over the plan to build a tourist canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. Spiegel told The Jerusalem Post last week that "Any project will have to have environmental evaluations - that is built in," Spiegel said, "For every building project in Israel, one has to evaluate the environmental impact." Spiegel, who is Peres's point man on the project, said he did not understand the environmental groups' knee-jerk negative reaction. "We want the project to succeed. We will bring the greens into the process - both at the brainstorming phase and afterwards," he told the Post. Environmental coalition coordinator Raanan Borel confirmed that the coalition has a meeting scheduled for this week with Peres's people, as well as with representatives of Yitzhak Tshuva, the main private sector financier pushing the vision of a tourist extravaganza in the Arava desert along the canal. At the recent President's Conference, Tshuva aired a presentation that envisioned casinos, hotels, man-made lakes and a public transport system running alongside an open canal bringing water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to replenish the latter and for desalination purposes. Environmentalists have launched a public pressure campaign calling for in-depth evaluations before any groundwork is laid. They have charged that Peres and Tshuva want to bypass the standard planning process, which requires environmental surveys by passing a private law. Spiegel insisted that whether the original idea of a conduit solely for saving the Dead Sea or Tshuva's more elaborate plan were selected, either process would include extensive environmental checks. "The World Bank survey will take one to one-and-a-half years. If the private sector acts first, they will do their own tests. If there is a private law, then that will require a treaty which will also necessitate addressing the environmental issue," Spiegel said. Spiegel also took a jab at the media and environmentalists. "All of the reports are shards of information and incorrect. I suggest the environmentalists learn the issue," he said. "We are at the beginning of the process. We will constantly evaluate and continue. [There is lots of time because] at any rate, this is a project which will take several years to complete," Spiegel concluded.