November 18, 2013 12:32 AM
By Mohammed Zaatari

TYRE, Lebanon: The municipality of Tyre is teaming up with civil society groups and environmental activists to launch a campaign to stop sand mining in the basin of Tyre’s Resthouse, a publicly owned resort property that is rented out to investors. “The sand-mining project will not get the go-ahead unless we are provided with studies about the environmental impacts of the mining,” Tyre Mayor Hasan Dbouk said.

“Our stance is not intransigent or stubborn, it is derived from concern for the negative impact this project will have on the city and its coast.”

He called on the relevant ministries to cancel the project, adding: “If this project is implemented it would affect the shores of the neighboring natural reserve because of the enormous quantity of sand that will be removed.”

Tyre’s renowned seaside coast is considered one of the most scenic sights in the country.

Currents carry sand from Egypt’s North Sinai near the Red Sea and deposit it along Tyre’s coast, where a natural reserve has been established to protect the sandy formations.

“The city of Tyre has suffered greatly from illegal sand mining, which extracted enormous amounts of sand that was sold before the Civil War, due to the lack of awareness among Lebanese about the impacts of mining on the ecosystem,” Dbouk explained. “Fortunately, the coast recovered and the sand formations were restored.”

Tyre’s Resthouse is a tourism spot owned by the Lebanese state. Over the years, a wave breaker was installed near its basin, which also belongs to the Lebanese state. The Tourism Ministry is responsible for preserving the area, but has leased out the running of the Resthouse and the basin to private investors.

“In 2009, the investors made a request to the Transport and Public Works Ministry to clean the basin by extracting the accumulated sands. The basin is 90 meters away from the wave breaker and it contains about 124,000 cubic meters of sand,” the mayor said.

“The basin looks more like a sand bed, due to the accumulation of the sand deposits over the years, and the investors are asking that it be restored to its original state.”

Sand mining is a practice used to extract sand from open pits, beaches, inland dunes and ocean and river beds. The sand is often used to make concrete, while minerals such as rutile and zircon can also be obtained.

Environmentalists say that sand mining causes erosion and impacts local wildlife, including sea turtles.

The Transport and Public Works Ministry granted the investors permission to extract the sand from the basin and sell it for LL20,000 per cubic meter of sand, yielding LL2.48 billion if all the sand is sold. The money will go to the state’s Treasury.

“If this project is implemented, then it will take away the wealth of Tyre, especially as the ministry has taken this decision without consulting the municipality and the civil society. It is our duty to protect public interests,” Dbouk said.

The mayor said he was against the project and that civil society members and citizens were planning on taking the matter to the streets if the government didn’t respond to their demands.

“The Environment Ministry should have a say on this matter and we will send the Transport and Public Works Ministry a letter expressing our point of view … We demand that the Audit Bureau look into this matter,” he said.

“Until our demands are met and a study about the environmental impact is done, we say that the golden sands of Tyre must stay.”

Ahmad Rida, a resident from Tyre, also voiced his disapproval regarding the project, saying: “We are against this project, and if they want to remove the sand, let them add the sand to the shore and not [sell it].”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 18, 2013, on page 4.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::