Environmental protection organizations and the Dead Sea hotels have found common ground: They hate the idea of razing the hotels and rebuilding them elsewhere.
By Zafrir Rinat and Meirav Arlosoroff

Environmental protection organizations and the Dead Sea hotels have found common ground: They hate the idea of razing the hotels and rebuilding them elsewhere.

Both warned of the “dangers” to ensue if the plan is pursued, though the plan’s very aim is to rescue the hotels from drowning as the level of the Dead Sea rises because of Israel Chemicals’ mining activities.

At a joint press conference yesterday with the environmental organizations, the hotels warned that the process of moving them would reroute Dead Sea tourism to Jordan. The environmentalists, in the form of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva V’Din ) called on the government to abandon the plan in favor of stabilizing the water level by harvesting the salt.

The alternatives are being studied by the Dead Sea Preservation Government Company, which operates under the auspices of the Tourism Ministry. The company will recommend to the government which alternative to choose.

Eli Gonen, representing the hotels, said the process would take long years. “Nobody will want to visit a construction site,” he said. “We’ll lose the whole tourism market to Jordan, where new hotels are being built by the Dead Sea.”

The state made a historic mistake by neglecting to require the Dead Sea Works, which is the ICL unit mining the area, to handle the accrual of salt caused by its operations.

Nir Papay of SPNI argues that salt will need to be harvested from the Dead Sea from 2030, and moving the hotels is a bad idea, so harvesting should start now. Papay also argues that the Dead Sea Preservation Government Company erred in calculating the cost of harvesting the salt: It wouldn’t take as many dredges as the company claims, he said. Everything from the electricity that would be consumed to the construction materials needed for dredging has been overstated, he claimed. Nor would they cause a nuisance to the hotels, Papay summed up.

Israel Chemicals belongs to The Israel Corporation, which in turns belongs to the Ofer family.

The Dead Sea Works operations and the hotels are both located along the southern section of the Dead Sea, which has essentially turned into a giant evaporation pool. Salt-rich water is constantly brought by canal from the northern section of the sea, which is fed by the Jordan River. But as the water comes, so does silt. The upshot is that the ground level of the southern half of the sea is rising, and therefore, so is the water level, unhappily for the hotels built along its shore.

The state established Dead Sea Preservation in 2008 to come up with solutions. It came up with three: One is harvesting vast amounts of salt from the bottom of the ICL evaporation pool, enough to keep the water level where it is. The second thought is to build an artificial lake, a lagoon, around the hotels, from which and only from which the salt would be harvested. The third concept is to raze the hotels and build new ones somewhere else – and that is the plan the hotels and green organizations so abhor.