The cabinet today approved a NIS 220 million clean-up of the Kishon River in Haifa, Israel's most polluted river, after years of neglect and the inflow of toxic industrial waste. The three-year project was submitted by Minister of Environmental Protection Gilad Erdan.
The project includes diverting and drying sections of the river and dredging the sludge pools to a depth of 2.5 meters along a seven-kilometer stretch. The sludge contains heavy metals, phosphorus, cadmium, and arsenic, which have accumulated over decades. New technology will be used to purify the area close to the work site, after which the area will become continuous parkland along the rehabilitated river, providing areas for recreational activities.
Erdan's proposal includes a NIS 60 million allocation by the Ministry of Finance to finance part of the project, on the grounds that the government bears historical responsibility for the Kishon River's pollution, since the polluting factories were government owned for years, including Oil Refineries Ltd. (TASE:ORL), and Haifa Chemicals Ltd.
The Ministry of Finance opposed the allocation, insisting that the Ministry of Environmental Protection should finance the project from its current budget. The cabinet settled the dispute by deciding that four bodies will share the financing: the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Drainage and Rivers Authority, over four years.
Even as the government boasts of the decision, disputes remain. The Ministry of Environmental Protection says that most of the factories in the Haifa Bay area, as well as local authorities recognize the need to rehabilitate the Kishon River and are prepared to help finance the project. The Ministry says, however, that Haifa Chemicals is the only company refuses to put up the money demanded of it, NIS 28 million, and that the company is offering only a tenth of the amount, on the grounds that its participation should reflect its share of responsibility for polluting the river.
Haifa Chemicals told "Globes" in response, "An independent expert committee, commissioned by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, recommended cleaning the Kishon River on the basis of the pollution profile it found, which includes fuel derivatives and heavy metals, which are characteristic of contamination by oil products, and this is not a business of Haifa Chemicals. The company is reponsible for a negligible 2.8% of the pollution and notified the ministry six months ago that it was willing share the cost of the clean-up on the basis of the proportion of the pollution determined by the expert committee, and even finance a higher share of the clean-up project's cost, based on the company's proportionate share of the total financing.
When the project is completed, the Kishon River will look different. It will be cleaner, the riverbed will be decontaminated and greatly deepened to prevent flooding of the Krayot, and its course will be changed. A 1.5-kilometer stretch south of Oil Refineries will be diverted to an alternative semicircular channel that will basically encircle the site where the dredged sludge will be dumped and decontaminated, using extensive biological treatments. Microorganisms will break up the toxins, in a unique plan of the Water and Rivers Division of the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
The dredging and decontamination will be carried out by a company that will be chosen by international tender.
The cabinet also approved a plan for contaminated soil dredged during the 1990s and stored at temporary pools along the banks of the Kishon River. 280,000 cubic meters of toxic sludge was dredged at the time, most of which has never been decontaminated. 150,000 cubic meters of this sludge will be decontaminated on top of the 400,000 cubic meters that will be dredged as part of the new project.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on July 10, 2011
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