01/17/2012 06:15

SPNI decries planning and building hazards to country’s land that endanger local wildlife.
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Threats to open areas are ever increasing as the government’s inclination to protect the public interest simultaneously decreases, according to a report released by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel on Tuesday.

This year, SPNI identified 110 such threats – 12 more than last year – of which 22 are brand new issues that emerged in 2011, according to the fifth annual report on Israel’s Planning and Building Threats to Open Spaces.

Most threats in this year’s report fell in the categories of urban development and new settlements – 41 – and transportation infrastructure – 29.

Other threats occur in the energy sector, water infrastructure, agricultural development, and the tourism industry.

The government seems to be favoring private enterprises over the general public in its planning and building decisions, the report’s author says, calling it “a very disconcerting trend.”

“Despite the number of successes in 2011, we have witnessed a continuous rise over the years in the number of threats – from 81 threats in 2009 to 110 this year – an increase that indicates a progressive and strong pressure on open areas in Israel,” SPNI vice president Nir Papay said.

Within the settlements category, the new threats to open spaces are Shibolet and Shezaf – two Negev communities in the works – both of which indicate a larger problem of authorizing new construction in open spaces rather than enriching already established places, both Papay and Itamar Ben- David, the report’s author and SPNI planning director, told journalists at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Monday.

Plans for urban sprawl that endanger local wildlife and open areas in existing cities include expansion in Yokne’am Illit at Nahal Hashnaim, residential development at the Herzliya Marina, construction plans for Givat Koslovsky in Givatayim, development on Rishon Lezion’s sand dunes, expansion of the urban center and establishment of an army base in Lod, and building in Dimona near streams, which may compromise flora, Ben- David said.

In the transportation sector, among the newly planned threats encountered in 2011 are an entry road to Kibbutz Pelech, an entirely new Road 20 in the Nahal Poleg region, the construction of train tracks between Dimona and Eilat, and new maintenance sites for Israel Railways in the Nahal Bet Arif, Yarkon and Mazor areas.

Energy hazards include onand- off plans for a gas station in the Hananya Valley, oil drilling in the Central Israel Hills, and wind turbine construction in both Biq’at Arad and Ramat Yotam, places where turbines could disrupt migrating birds, according to Ben-David.

The report takes issue with new threats to water infrastructure at Yokne’am Illit, where residential development would disturb Nahal Hashnaim, the train maintenance site plans for Nahal Beit Arif and the Yarkon River, as well as proposals for water reservoirs in the Qula Forest and a waste dump in Rimonim.

The sole new agricultural threat pinpointed in this year’s report is vineyard fencing in the Judean Hills, which is isolating gazelles.

In the tourism industry, new threats posed include the Herzliya Marina and Rishon Lezion sand dune development projects, as well as a plan to close the Ein Maboa Spring and charge admission to the public visiting Wadi Kelt, Ben-David said.

The report also indentified triumphant spots and improved areas from last year.

Among the success stories are plans for a vacation village in Acre, a two-lane expansion of Road 6 from the North to Yokne’am, construction of residences and hotels near Nahal Nader on Mount Carmel, a tourist site in Lahav Forest, the West Bank security barrier in the Judean Desert, and the overflowing waters of the Dead Sea’s pool number five.

Existing threats that have shown dramatic improvement over the past year include protection measures for the Shagor Nahal Reserve in the Lower Galilee, temporarily nixed plans for a bridge at Nahal Kziv, canceled plans for a vacation villages at Betzet Beach and the Nitzanim Sand Dunes, the likely creation of an international airport in Netavim rather than in Megiddo, the fight against a desalination plant in Kfar Masaryk, and illegal building in open northern Negev space by Beduin, according to Ben-David.

“We hope we can consider these as successes for next year,” he said, praising Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan specifically for his work in fighting the Betzet construction.

Ben-David likewise expressed hopes that this year, more environmental awareness will lead to far less illegal building by Beduin, whose perhaps improved but continued illegal construction is still a visible problem in the country’s open spaces.

Overall, however, both Papay and Ben-David expressed pessimism for progress in protecting the country’s open spaces in 2012, especially since the power of local planning committees – and the voices of the people – may soon be compromised through the probable enactment of planning and building reforms, which would bring such responsibilities to the national level.

Both men encouraged the public to use the report to get in touch with the many businesses, organizations and government branches that support the 110 threats, to prevent their implementation.

“SPNI will continue to promote sustainable development in Israel, strengthening cities, advancing the urban renewal process and affordable housing, and therefore the promotion and encouragement of resource allocation to nature reserves,” Ben-David said.