Green groups up in arms, citing expert who says region’s dunes are second most ecologically important area in Israel after Mount Hermon.
By Zafrir Rinat

The road that runs parallel to the Egyptian border in the western Negev is to be moved eastward by some 750 meters for security reasons. The Ramat Negev Regional Council has decided to reroute Route 10 because of frequent closures due to terror warnings that disrupt traffic through the area.

Under the council’s plan, a 30-kilometer stretch of the road is to be diverted eastward, from Nitzana northward to the area known as the Shalom Salient, near the southern Gaza Strip.
vultures – Yoram Shpirer – April 22 2011

Vultures at one of the feeding stations in the Negev.
Photo by: Yoram Shpirer

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel filed an objection to the National Planning and Building Council against the approval of the plan, relying on the opinion of an expert on the region, Dr. Yaron Ziv of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Ziv says the region’s dunes are the second most ecologically important area in the country after Mount Hermon in terms of the large number of rare animals that live there, and that paving the road will mean the loss of 21,000 dunams (about 520 acres ) of natural habitat.

The SPNI also said that paving the road, which will cost hundreds of millions of shekels, was unjustified because few travelers used it, adding that current roads were sufficient and travelers’ security could be assured in other ways.

A committee that heard the objection conceded that few area residents needed the road but that this did not mean wide roads should not be built there. “The area is one of the regions that the State of Israel has a prime interest in settling. It is a border area with Egypt and there is a real need to increase population there,” the committee said.

The committee added that its Defense Ministry representative had stated that protection of the existing road would require building a huge wall, which would in itself damage the environment and the scenery.

The committee said it had taken environmental impact into account in approving the road’s construction, and that a team of experts had proposed ways to minimize the damage, including the creation of passageways for animals.

The committee agreed that the region’s significance required reducing the originally planned road width of 50 meters to 30 meters, and that it could be widened later if traffic warranted it.

The SPNI responded that the security justification for the road and the need at present should both be re-examined.

The committee’s representative from the Union of Environmental Defense, Eli Ben-Ari, disagreed with the committee’s majority decision that population in the area should be expanded. He said that the area should be kept in its natural state for the benefit of the entire country.