As head of a new Knesset subcommittee to investigate environmental and planning issues, Henin led other MKs on a tour of the Haifa port area.

Expanding the existing Haifa port might better serve the surrounding region than constructing an entirely new harbor, MK Dov Henin (Hadash) said during a tour of the area on Wednesday.

As head of a new Knesset subcommittee to investigate Haifa Bay environmental and planning issues, Henin led other Knesset members on a tour of the Haifa port area on Wednesday, making stops at the harbor itself, the Haifa Airport, Oil Refineries Ltd. and the offices of the Haifa District Municipal Association for Environmental Protection.

MK Miri Regev (Likud), chairwoman of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, established the subcommittee in March, tasking its members with generating recommendations regarding the bay area’s pollution and planning within three months.

An additional goal of the subcommittee is to examine the role of government master plan TAMA-30 in the Haifa Bay region, which Henin has said calls for the legalization of 250,000 sq.m. of industry that has been built illegally and the expansion of the refinery area by 670,000 sq.m. Joining Henin on the Wednesday tour were MKs Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Yaakov Asher (United Torah Judaism) and Omer Bar Lev (Labor).

While visiting the port area, the Knesset visitors met with Israel Ports Development and Asset Company CEO Shlomo Brieman, who presented them with an overview of the harbor area and an environmental impact statement related to the planned new port for the Haifa Bay. The port, he explained, currently handles about 2.2 million containers per year, and the newer port would be able to handle about 3.5 million containers annually.

Expressing that he was very impressed with the versatility, professionalism and technological capabilities of the current port, Henin questioned the need to establish a brand new port.

“From the questions we presented it became clear that there are options for further expanding and enhancing the port to meet the additional needs that the future will demand,” Henin said. “In this situation, the question as to the need to establish an additional port, a Haifa Bay port, becomes sharper.”

Because of the great construction costs involved, the establishment of a new port could have far-reaching consequences for the Haifa metropolitan region, he explained. One of the justifications put forward for establishing the new, private port, is the ability to lower the wages of employees in comparison to those on the existing harbor, Henin added.

“The question arises if this is indeed the point of establishing the port and if so, whether this can be justified,” he said. “The subcommittee will discuss these issues in the next two months, hearing all the parties involved, will analyze the data in order to bring the requested recommendations before the Knesset on the issue.”

The expansion of Oil Refineries Ltd. and the privatization of the port could have “far-reaching environmental, social, economic and urban implications for the Haifa metropolitan region as a whole,” Zandberg added.

Just as the Knesset members embarked on their tour on Wednesday morning, the social change organization Shatil wrote to journalists that environmental organization members “were expelled in an unprecedented manner” from taking part in the day’s events. Although the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee approved their presence on the tour three weeks ago, participants were told that they could not join on Wednesday morning, a joint statement from Shatil and the Public Health Coalition said.

In response, Henin said that he “truly regrets that from a technical perspective of lack of space, it was impossible to bring in every environmental organization member to the spots along the tour.”

“Nevertheless, everyone who was present at the beginning of the Haifa Port tour of course was not eliminated, as was claimed,” Henin stressed.

At the visit to Oil Refineries Ltd. that followed, Henin said that there would be at least one representative from each environmental organization in attendance, and he emphasized that the subcommittee would like to hear from the various groups throughout its operations.