The Battle Rages On: In Defense of a Unique Desert Ecosystem

Sasgon Valley. Photo Dov Greenblat SPNI

For 15 years, SPNI has led the charge in a fight to preserve the natural landscape of the Sasgon Valley region, part of the Timna Valley in the Arava desert.  While developers are intent on constructing a hotel in the area, SPNI has done everything possible to avoid this potentially damaging development.

Last month, the Southern District Planning and Building Committee re-approved a plan for the construction of this 240-room resort.  The project was originally approved 10 years ago, but construction was blocked in court by the environmental organization Adam Teva V'Din.  At that time, the group argued that the project must fit all requirements laid out in the country's master plan for construction and development, which it did not.  

Since then, many changes have been made to the hotel’s original plan and environmentalists are demanding that the plan be resubmitted and an allowance be made for civilians to register complaints regarding the threats that the redesigned project poses to the local environment.  

 

Sasgon Valley. Photo Dov Greenblat SPNISeveral Member of Knesset have urged the Knesset Interior and Environmental Protection Committee to overturn the approval of the hotel plan.  One MK argued that it is "a megalomaniacal and kitschy plan that was ranked ninth out of ten alternatives, and it will damage, in an unprecedented manner, a rare and pristine area of global importance.”  

In an effort to force the reversal, SPNI issued a legal letter to the committee, but it did not yield the desired response.  As a result, SPNI together with other environmental organizations, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Mayor of the Netivot Municipality, made an appeal to the National Planning Committee.

The appeal asserts that the committee did not examine alternative plans for the hotel and approved the developer's plan despite a professional report issued by its own appointed analyst that ranks the chosen location as one of the worst possible options – due to the potentially severe environmental damage – and recommends that an alternative plan be adopted.  The hotel developer, Yova Ivgra, rejects the possibility of building the hotel on an alternative site.   

If the National Planning Committee rejects the appeal, SPNI will appeal the District Court.  Noam Weiss, SPNI's Director of Eilat Ornithological Center, explains that the situation is dire because the project under discussion entails more than just a building: "We must keep in mind that this plan does not simply provide for the construction of a hotel.  It will require a vast infrastructure, including power lines and roads, that will destroy the picturesque landscape and tear the region’s unique desert ecosystems apart."