The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) filed an objection this week to the proposal to create a new community called Nitzanit on the salient next to Nitzana in the western Negev. The environmental organization charged that the new community would reduce open spaces, destroy ecosystems and disrupt the natural ambience in the area.SPNI reasoned that, instead of creating new communities and the accompanying infrastructure like pipes and roads, existing communities should be filled up first. The organization also cited a petition from 2004 signed by 115 out of 154 local residents objecting to the plan for Nitzanit.The planning for Nitzanit began following a government decision from 2001 to settle the area. While previous plans called for 5,000 apartments, the new plan calls for 1,500 apartments. Ironically, Nitzana is home to many an environmental activist and the community boasts an environmental education center and a recycling training center. Part of the plan for Nitzanit actually takes account of including open spaces in the community as well as a trail.However, SPNI charged that the plan was more along the lines of pseudo-sustainability and instead would consume more of Israel’s dwindling open spaces. SPNI also charged that the unique natural elements were beginning to draw serious tourism to the area and a new community would corrupt the natural splendor.The plan has been deposited for public comment, after which it will be taken up again by the Southern District Planning Committee. SPNI’s protest follows a similar objection to the approval of Kasif, a proposed haredi town near Arad, which is slated to have 10,000 apartments. SPNI believes that all of Beersheba’s neighborhoods should be filled first instead. Last year, environmentalists lost a major battle to prevent three new communities from going up in the Lachish Region.SPNI and other environmental groups’ continued objections to newcommunities raises a dilemma for policymakers and planners. On the onehand, the government has championed settlement in the Negev and theGalilee as a national priority. There has even been discussion ofgiving combat soldiers a half dunam in one of the two areas after theycomplete their army service.On the other hand, environmentalists charge that the planning strategyis deficient. While not objecting to settling the Negev, the groups,and especially SPNI, continue to hammer home the point that buildingnew communities every which way will have a deleterious impact on thefragile surrounding ecosystems. They cite a government planningprinciple which urges settling existing population centers to fullcapacity before starting new ones.The Negev and Galilee Development Ministry did not respond to queries.