08/12/2010 09:47

Kishon River Authority and Israel Ports Company clash over trees and irrigation.

Notwithstanding a decision late last month about how to divide the land around the Haifa Port between the Israel Ports Company (IPC) and the Kishon River Authority, the two were once again trading accusations over land ownership on Wednesday.

This time, a row of several dozen trees along the riverbank and their accompanying drip irrigation system were at the center of the debate. Around Tu Bishvat this year, the Kishon River Authority and its volunteers planted a row of young trees along the riverbank and installed some rubber hoses to water them. On Tuesday, IPC employees dug up the hoses to remove them. A Kishon River Authority ranger spotted them and demanded that they return the hoses to their original positions. The employees refused.

Late last month, a committee of ministry directors-general decided to recommend creating a nearly 600-dunam (60- hectare) park along the river’s banks. The IPC would receive alternate land somewhere else to enable future expansion of the port. The two government entities had clashed repeatedly in the run-up to the committee’s recommendation, which was considered at least a partial environmental victory. Environmentalists want a park twice as big along the river.

Late Tuesday, Kishon River Authority legal adviser A. Banner wrote a letter to the IPC administration demanding that it rehabilitate the site to its former state and compensate the authority for damages. Banner threatened further legal action if the IPC did not comply.

Banner also accused the IPC of illegally claiming land that had been allocated under national master plan 22 as forest land.

“The Kishon River Authority brings a grievous complaint regarding the illegal behavior of IPC, namely causing damage to the authority’s property and unacceptable damage to the rehabilitation of the river and its environs. The Kishon River Authority told the IPC employees that if the area were not returned to its former state immediately, the authority would make formal complaint to the police to investigate the matter and bring those responsible to justice,” Banner added in the letter.

The IPC, on Wednesday, gave no sign of backing down. In a harshly worded response, it accused the authority of illegally planting trees without permission on port land.

“Despite the repeated claims of the Kishon River Authority, which are totally baseless, the rights to the land were awarded to IPC by law. This was made clear to the authority by all of the relevant bodies which have authority on this issue. The attempt by the authority to represent the matter differently, reflects behavior inappropriate to a public authority and does not correspond to the legal reality and the facts on the ground,” the response read.

The IPC said it had asked the authority not to plant trees in that area, as it belonged to the company.

“If it was really important to the River Authority to plant trees on the banks of the river, it should have found a legal way to do so and to resolve this issue,” the company retorted.

The IPC said it would water the trees itself for the next month to give the authority time to find a legal solution. It also mentioned that “the trees there are in bad shape, apparently as a result of ongoing neglect.”

The Kishon River is in the midst of a multi-year rehabilitation project. The area has been a dumping ground for local factories for many years, but wildlife is gradually returning as a result of the rehabilitation efforts.

The Kishon runs close to the current port before letting out into the bay. The IPC’s job is to ensure that the ever-increasing import and export industry has enough room at the ports along the Mediterranean Sea to meet demand. To that end, the IPC is intent on securing land for expansion adjacent to the water.