10/20/2010 10:06

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense calls for government to cancel grant due to failure to meet terms.

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED) has demanded that the government cancel a grant of at least NIS 75 million from the public coffers to the developer of the Timna Hotels complex near Eilat for failure to meet the terms of the grant.

In a letter to the Investment Center in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, on Sunday night, which was revealed Monday afternoon, IUED lawyers contended that the developer would not be able to adhere to the terms of the grant and therefore it should be canceled.

After obtaining the terms of the grant through a Freedom of Information Act request earlier this year, IUED learned that the developer was to have secured building permits for the site near Eilat by the end of 2009 and must secure the financing by the end of 2010. IUED contended that the developer had failed to obtain building permits and was almost surely not going to be able to obtain all of the requisite financing by the end of the year. Therefore, IUED wrote, the grant should be revoked and returned to the public coffers.

IUED cited NIS 75m. as the amount of the grant based on media reports, but noted that its own assumption was that the grant was higher. While the grant has not been paid to the developer, it has been set aside for him.

Moreover, the District Planning Committee is set to return in the coming days with what is expected to be a significantly revised plan for the 200-dunam planned hotel complex, conference center and artificial river through the Sasgoon Valley.

That is likely to change the nature of the project even more, IUED added.

Even if the Investment Center has decided to extend the deadlines for fulfilling the terms of the grant, it should still be canceled, IUED demanded.

The proposed hotel complex has been the target of a concerted IUED and local residents’ campaign for over two years because they fear the project will cause irreparable damage to the area’s desert ecosystem.

In 2008, as a result of a suit launched by IUED, the court ordered the district planning committee to take a second look at the plans because the initial planning process had been faulty. The committee is expected to return with their assessment in the near future.

“The state, via the Investment Center, decided to transfer to the private developer tens of millions of shekels out of the public coffers for a project that is anti-environmental and disputed,” IEUD lawyer Assaf Rozenblum declared.

“Today, it is clear to everyone that the developer has not met the requirements for the grant and the regulations of the Tourism Ministry and the time has come to cancel the grant, return the money, as much as possible, to the public coffers, and to allocate the respectable amount of funds which have been set aside for this purpose to other purposes and other parties, in accordance with the public interest,” he said.

The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry responded Tuesday, “The Timna Hotels Projects of the Igra Group has approval which is contingent upon receiving building permits and as long as there are no permits, then the group cannot utilize it.

The approval was for a period of two years which ends in the near future.

“Starting in 2010, the topic of hotels is handled by the Tourism Ministry and therefore, in this issue as well, it is up to them to provide answers.”

The Tourism Ministry said, “We have not yet received IUED’s letter and when it arrives we will evaluate it.

“In this matter, like all projects the ministry is involved with, the ministry is evaluating and following the progress of the project. In the coming weeks, once the situation assessment has been completed, the ministry will decide on its policy.”