Environmental Protection Ministry says the devices are urgently needed
Zafrir Rinat | Feb. 7, 2019 | 12:37 AM

A government agency decided this week to halt a project to stop the erosion of the Ashkelon cliff.

The project involved laying sand-filled tubes made of a specially engineered fabric in the sea below the cliff to mitigate the impact of the waves. The Mediterranean Coastal Cliffs Preservation Company ordered the halt because the geotubes, as these tubes are called, suffered severe damage whose cause is still unknown. The company, a government agency, has reported the damage to the police.

Last summer, a contractor hired by the company placed 50 geotubes off the Ashkelon coast near the northernmost breakwater, opposite a section of the cliff that was in severe danger of collapsing. Coastal cliffs are also in danger of collapsing in other cities, including Netanya and Herzliya, in part due to a shortage of sand.

But a few days ago, the company discovered that the geotubes had suffered severe damage. This came as a surprise, because the last storm to hit the coast wasn’t so severe that it should have caused such extensive damage. One official speculated that the damage might have been caused by pieces of junk in the sea.

The company said it is investigating the cause and is considering several possibilities, including deliberate vandalism. But until it finds out what happened, it has halted the work of laying the geotubes.

The company added that it has paid only a modest advance toward the work, rather than the full price, which is 10 million shekels ($2.8 million).

The Environmental Protection Ministry, which oversees the company, said the geotubes were urgently needed in Ashkelon.

“Any other type of protection, like building breakwaters, requires planning and approval by the planning agencies, and that’s a process that takes several years,” it said. “The geotubes provide a response to the cliff’s erosion during the interim period and will protect it until permanent defenses are approved.”

But the ministry added that it, too, is awaiting the results of the company’s investigation before deciding what to do to protect the cliff.

The geotubes were fiercely opposed by the Ashkelon organization Shomrei Hayam, which mainly consists of surfers.

“We opposed this because of its impact on the environment,” said one of the organization’s founders, Assi Dvir. “Nothing develops near the geotubes, and they damage the marine environment.”

But the group does favor building breakwaters, he added, and it wants to launch a dialogue with the cliff preservation company on the issue.

The effort to protect the Ashkelon cliff also involves bringing in sand. That was been tried at several Israeli beaches in recent years, but has produced only partial and short-term success.

This week, the Prime Minister’s Office published a multiyear infrastructure plan that includes various measures to protect the Ashkelon cliff, including repairing breakwaters, bringing in sand and laying down geotubes. The plan will cost 140 million shekels.

A similar plan for Netanya, which includes building three kilometers of breakwaters, will cost 200 million shekels.