Northern city’s District Planning and Building Committee rejected objections by activists over pollution fears in Haifa Bay area.
By Zafrir Rinat | Apr. 26, 2014

Haifa’s main planning committee has approved a master plan that will allow the northern city’s Oil Refineries facility and nearby industries to continue operating, over numerous objections by environmental groups.

The Haifa District Planning and Building Committee also approved the establishment of new manufacturing facilities. However, it did set a number of conditions that it says will ensure pollution problems in the Haifa Bay area will not grow worse as a result of the plan.

The new master plan involves an area of nearly 3,000 dunams (750 acres), only part of which is utilized by Oil Refineries, Haifa Chemicals and a number of other industries. The purpose of the plan is to regulate the operations of these facilities, which have been operating under plans approved many years ago.

It will also make possible the construction of other facilities, among them one at Oil Refineries and another at Haifa Chemicals. In recent years, Oil Refineries has been promoting construction of a large facility called a hydrocracker, whose purpose is to streamline the production of petroleum products.

Among the groups opposing the master plan are Green Course and the Public Health Coalition, which claimed approval of the plan legitimized increased air pollution and exposure to dangerous materials in the Haifa area.

The 1,660 or so objections the committee received from a number of organizations led the Interior Ministry to appoint a researcher to investigate the objections.

The subsequent report submitted by the appointed researcher, architect Renana Yardeni, determined that the plan could be approved, but recommended setting a number of conditions for the continued operation of the industries, so as to prevent a worsening of pollution problems. Most of these recommendations were approved by the committee.

One such committee recommendation was that the various facilities in the industrial area be given construction permits only on condition that their activities did not lead to a rise in the emission of pollutants in comparison with the current level, and that other elements harmful to the environment be minimized.

It was also decided that, every five years, a report will be presented to the public on the implementation of the plan’s instructions and details on air pollution.

On the basis of this report, the committee could restrict construction permits and make stricter environmental demands.

Yardeni’s report rejects most of the claims of the plan’s opponents regarding its risks.

One of the key claims against the plan was that the extent of the broad impact of the industrial activities on air pollution and mortality in the Haifa Bay area had not been properly assessed.

Yardeni rejected the opponents’ claim that at least 50 deaths a year occur as a result of industrial pollution. Rather, she said the main cause of pollution in the area is currently transportation, with particle pollution from the Oil Refineries accounting for only 30 percent of emissions in the Haifa Bay area.

Yardeni also rejected the claim that expansion of industrial activity in the area threatened Haifa’s ability to develop, noting the government had set aside the area in question for oil refining, among other reasons because of its proximity to the port. This was also approved in other master plans she said, noting that other petrochemical industries of similar sizes in Holland, Australia and the United States were less than a kilometer from residential areas. “That is, the response to the concerns is in technologies and resources invested in reducing air pollution, and not the physical distance.”