Planning commission to rethink vacation village at Timna park

Environmental activists and local residents up in arms over the plan, which they say would destroy desert ecosystem of the Timna Park.

timna park 88 (photo credit: )
timna park 88
(photo credit: )
The Southern District Planning Commission voted on Monday to explore alternatives to a proposed plan to build a 300-dunam vacation village in the Sasgun Valley at the Timna Park near Eilat. Environmental activists and local residents have been up in arms over the plan, which they say would destroy the pristine desert ecosystem of the Timna Park. The committee voted 6 to 2 to commission a report of alternatives to the project, including finding an alternate location or even canceling the project altogether. The Timna Park is a family attraction boasting the world's first copper mine and an array of geological formations. The planned vacation village would consist of a 400-room hotel, and several activity areas. Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED) lawyers had convinced a judge to send the plan back to the planning commission because the approval process had not conformed to the requirements of the National Master Plan 35. The park's status as a natural complex under that plan required an environmental impact assessment of the proposed vacation project, which was never done. After the committee's decision on Sunday, IUED lawyer Nirit Lotan called on the Investment Center of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to withdraw its support for the hotel plan. "In light of the court's decision and the planning commission's, we expect the Investment Center to withdraw its support for the plan and to put the money towards other projects that do not harm the environment," she said in a statement. MK Dov Henin (Hadash), head of the Social-Environmental Caucus in the Knesset, noted that this was another example of cooperation between activists and MKs leading to a victory. "This is an impressive achievement for a group of devoted activists and for the entire environmental movement in protecting the special natural beauty of Israel," he said. "Time after time in Timna, Palmahim, and Kiryat Sefer Park in Tel Aviv we see that the right mix between a public, parliamentary, legal and planning fight can defeat the 'powerful real estate interests.'" The caucus had asked Ben-Gurion University Prof. Alon Tal to look into an alternative sustainable solution for the hotels. According to Tal's final report, such options do exist. The Igra Group, the developers of the vacation village, praised the decision on the condition that the report is produced in a timely fashion - as the court had ordered. They also said that "the Igra Group is convinced that after examining the alternatives, which, by the way, have already been examined in the past, it will be determined that the current spot is the most in line with the green nature of the project." The Igra Group contends that the Timna Project would be ecological. It would reuse its water, and vehicular traffic would be forbidden except for electric cars and bicycles.