By Suzanna Goussous – Jun 11,2016

Residents of Fuheis protest against a planned investment project in their town on Saturday (Photo by Sahem Rababah)

AMMAN — Dozens of Fuheis residents on Saturday participated in a protest to reject an investment plan by Lafarge Jordan that seeks to turn the cement production site into an urban development hub.

The protest is the second in two months as residents held a similar sit-in in April. But Saturday’s protest was triggered after Fuheis Municipality approved the projected investment plan.

In February of this year, Lafarge Jordan announced a blue print to turn its site of 1,880 dunums for cement production in Fuheis, some 20km northwest of Amman, into an “environment-friendly urban hub” that would include shopping malls, residential and commercial properties, medical facilities and restaurants.

In a previous interview with The Jordan Times, the company’s CEO Amr Reda said the value of the project would exceed JD2 billion when it is ready.

But town resident and former mayor Jiryes Sweiss said the decision is not supported by the local community of Fuheis “for its negative impact on the environment and the well-being of its residents”.

“From a technical perspective, the land’s current situation does not allow for having a new investment project; it needs to be rehabilitated and an extensive environmental study has to be conducted,” Sweiss told The Jordan Times.

“The project should not be implemented right away. It is a long procedure of evaluating options and suggestions, with the approval of the town’s residents and not any external party.”

He added that in order to transform the land into a positive resource, the procedure has to include scientific, legal, and technical studies of the current status.

Another town resident said the “land belongs to the people”, adding that a “foreign investment should not control the land”.

Mary Hattar, a business woman living in Fuheis, said the town’s struggle started decades ago.

“The land used to be a place to plant, harvest, and sell to neighbouring countries — such as Palestine. Then, Fuheis paid the price for the transformation that occurred,” Hattar told The Jordan Times.

“High cancer and immigration rates were recorded when Lafarge started operating in Fuheis. It is time for us to reject the new investments that would affect our health and environment,” she said.

Hattar added that such investments should be approved by the local community, since they are directly affected.

However, Fuheis Mayor Huweishel Akroush said the municipality has been studying the decision for more than six months.

“The majority of Fuheis residents, along with local organisations, voted in favour of the decision. Those who support the new project represent around 75 per cent of the town’s population,” he told The Jordan Times.

The new project will include a hospital, an educational institute, a playground, parks, and around 165 villas, according to the mayor.

He added there will be around 438 dunums registered for the municipality, with around 300 dunums for streets that would serve the residents of the area and ease their journeys to and from Fuheis.

“The majority of the town residents approve it… The alternatives are difficult to implement; either giving it back to the cement company to produce more toxic gases, or to make it an independent economic zone that the residents cannot control,” he said.

The projected investment, Akroush said, seemed to be the “most suitable” solution for the residents to enjoy and benefit from their land.

“The most important benefit we get from the project is the legal custodianship of the land by the municipality and the residents of Fuheis,” he added.

The project is scheduled to be implemented within the next few months, he said.