August 22, 2013 12:15 AM
By Misbah al-Ali

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Residents of the northern city of Tripoli are opposing a new building project on the city’s public waterfront, saying it would rob locals of access to the free coastal strip.

The project, as presented by one of its financiers, Youssef Fattal, seeks to reclaim land near the Olympic Stadium at Tripoli’s southern entrance.

If licenses are approved, two 80-meter high towers, a beach resort, a hotel and shops would be constructed in addition to a marina for yachts by the waterfront, which spans the city of Tripoli and its immediate neighbor, the city of Mina.

It would reclaim some 50,000 square meters of land.

Discussions over whether the licenses should be approved are due to be held by the Tripoli Municipal Council Thursday.

The proposed project has been the subject of much debate among civil society activists, who say that while the municipal council is able to issue permits, it lacks the power to approve such large-scale projects.

Environmental activists believe the project would ruin the public waterfront, known as the Corniche in Mina, which offers much-needed free recreation space for the area’s impoverished residents.

The activists have organized a protest to take place in front of the municipality building Thursday at the same time as the council meeting.

Activist Samer Anous, one of the organizers of the protest, said residents were rejecting the project in its entirety because they believed it aimed to destroy one of the most beautiful waterfronts in the country. He said the new project would deprive Tripoli’s residents of access to the seafront.

Anous pointed to other proposed projects in the works that “do not entail selling the waterfront to Mina businessman” and were “concerned with improving the waterfront for the sake of modernization and development.

He highlighted a project presented by the European Union in cooperation with the French Marseille Municipality that would create public and private entertainment venues for rent.

“The project includes an aquarium and initiatives to improve the fishing port and beautify the Corniche by planting trees, flowers and other plants to turn it into a touristic place to be proud of, without having to reclaim land and destroy the marine environment.”

Anous said the municipal council should be more concerned with delivering public services instead of granting exceptional licenses to increase private wealth and property and to initiatives that deprive citizens of access to public land.

A similar project titled “The New Tripoli” is also on the table, although it will not be discussed Thursday. It includes reclaiming approximately 2 million square meters of land to replicate development projects in Beirut such as Zaitunay Bay.

The project, under the supervision of Tripoli MP Robert Fadel, is headed by a company formed by Future Movement politicians, as well as caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi.

Tensions are running high over the proposals, with divisions emerging within the municipal council between those eager to launch the waterfront project – with an eye on promoting other investment projects in Tripoli – and those against the developments.

Some council members feel the project will damage natural areas surrounding the waterfront. More than one member of the municipal council, as well as members of the engineering committee, have requested that significant amendments be made to the project and that granting exceptional licenses be refused.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 22, 2013, on page 4.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::