By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – Resorting to court is a likely option for stopping the construction of a planned military academy in Bergesh Forest, environment activists said on Saturday.

They are considering filing several lawsuits on the grounds alleging that the establishment of the academy in Bergesh violates local laws, Omar Al Shoshan, spokesperson for a committee comprising several environment NGOs rallying against the planned project, said yesterday.

“Environment activists and lawyers specialised in environment law have studied the issue of Bergesh Forest and the planned military academy and prepared an indictment,” he told The Jordan Times yesterday.

Shoshan, who also heads the environment policies section at the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), said lawsuits will also be filed against former environment and agriculture ministers who authorised the construction of the academy despite the fact that it violates environment and agriculture laws.

If implemented, the project will violate the 2002 temporary Agriculture Law. Article 28 of the law forbids the inclusion of forests within municipalities’ boundaries, unless approved by the agriculture minister. In addition, the same article prohibits dividing forest land or changing their land use category, according to the RSCN.

The project will also be in violation of Article 35, paragraph B of the Agriculture Law, which forbids uprooting, damaging or violating any centennial or rare forest trees and threatened wild plants, in any form.

In addition, the terms of reference of the environment impact assessment (EIA) will breach the related 2005 regulation. The EIA regulation approved by the Cabinet stipulates explaining the reason behind selecting a project’s construction site and providing alternatives, according to the RSCN.

Construction work on the academy started in early January, but was halted after several environmental NGOs and MPs objected to the site, located 90 kilometres northwest of the capital.

The project aroused the ire of environment NGOs and the public after it was discovered that hundreds of centennial trees would be uprooted in Bergesh Forest, where green cover stands at 90 per cent.

The RSCN said the forest represents an integrated ecosystem that houses over 100 plant species – 13 per cent listed as rare, 4 per cent as locally or internationally threatened and 13 per cent as holding medicinal value.

Deliberations between the Jordan Armed Forces, environment NGOs and a Lower House committee probing the academy’s construction resulted in altered blueprints to limit the number of uprooted trees on the site, a 1,200-dunum area, including 700 dunums previously acquired from citizens.

But environmental NGOs, activists, MPs and local residents warned that at least 300 centennial trees will be uprooted in the process and called for relocating the military academy to another site in Ajloun that doesn’t require invading the forest’s ecosystem.