Planned Metro excavations revive artificial island idea

Work on light rail Green Line  credit: Bar Lavi
Work on light rail Green Line credit: Bar Lavi

40 million cubic meters of earth will be excavated in constructing the Gush Dan Metro. Could it be used to build an island off Israel's coast?

The digging of tunnels for the Metro in the Greater Tel Aviv area will involve the removal of 40 million cubic meters of earth, and the Ministry of Transport is examining the possibility of using this material to build an artificial island off the coast of Israel. The examination is being led by NTA - Metropolitan Mass Transit System and Israel Ports Company, and is coordinated by Ministry of Transport director general Moshe Ben Zaken.

The planned Metro system consists of three underground railway lines passing under 24 local authorities in Gush Dan (the Greater Tel Aviv area). It will be built in stages, and is due to be completed by 2040.

The huge amount of earth that will be excavated requires creative solutions for storage and transport, say sources involved in the venture. The Israel Land Authority and Israel Railways are also being consulted about the use of the excavated material.

The current examination includes testing of the nature of the material. It is not yet known how much of it will be usable. The information is being gathered from dozens of spots at which NTA is carrying out test borings. In addition to the construction of an artificial island, the possibility of using the material to fill disused quarries is also being examined.

When Haifa Bayport, which opened in 2021, was in the planning stage, Israel Ports Company examined whether it was worth transporting the earth excavated in the construction of the light rail Red Line in Tel Aviv to use in constructing the new port, but in the end the idea was dropped because of the small amount of material, difficulties in transporting wet sand, the timing of the works on the line and the port, and the cost of using this sand versus mining sand at sea.

98% of Israel’s imports come by sea, and the capacity of its seaports is projected to be under challenge by 2040. In the master plan for port development, various possibilities are proposed: an island in Haifa Bay to which industrial plants will be evacuated; an island offshore from Hadera to serve as a port, or an island off Ashdod. According to Israel Ports Company, Hadera or Ashdod are the likelier possibilities.

At any rate, the challenges are considerable, and the examination is only in the initial stages. In a Planning Administration policy document on Israel’s coastline, the possibility was examined of constructing an artificial island in the Hadera area, which was perceived as less vulnerable than other locations, but the idea was not included in the final draft because of environmental risks.

In the past, the Ministry of Transport even carried out a feasibility study for the construction of an airport on an artificial island, which came to a negative conclusion, while other initiatives have been proposed by government ministries, such as an island off the coast of the Gaza Strip, and local authorities have made their own proposals for constructing islands.

Prof. Ofira Ayalon of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management at the University of Haifa says that, although the questions are complex, it is possible to construct an artificial island. "The subject has been examined several times by various agencies, mainly because the State of Israel is poor in land area and the rate of growth of its population is the highest among the OECD countries. The problem of land is therefore material, and the idea of artificial islands has been surveyed more than once, mainly for transferring aviation, power, and desalination infrastructures to them," she says.

"Transferring infrastructures to an artificial island could be a good idea, but it’s only an idea, because many things have to be considered along the way: where and how should islands be constructed, the effect on sea transport and on the maritime environment and biological diversity. When Haifa Bayport was constructed, the most expensive ever environmental survey was carried out to examine these issues. Japan is a country that makes extensive use of building debris to build artificial islands, and so it’s not impossible, but it requires a very great deal of professional work."

In recent years, the matter has been studied by researchers at the Technion, who recommended constructing small installations that do not require a fixed connection to the mainland and can be placed on pylons, and also the construction of artificial islands for infrastructures.

At the same time, the researchers did not recommend constructing an island for urban development. "The unique structure of the seabed -a steep slope that would require massive filling or the use of unproven technologies, and the creation of new infrastructure and connecting it to the mainland, involve very large investment. Even if such investment is found to be worthwhile in the foreseeable future, it is doubtful whether it serves correct national policy" from social, environmental, and urban planning points of view.

Former National Planning and Building Council head Dalit Zilber raises other difficulties. "In recent years, there has been talk, and attempts to design islands for infrastructure, and even housing, and it has to be remembered that, unlike in other places, such as Dubai or Hong Kong, our waters are deep and stormy, thirty meters deep in places, and these are two significant objective factors. After examining how an island can be established in the Mediterranean, it has to be remembered that our coast is characterized by drifting sand, and construction at sea could have consequences for that as well. Developing an island in the sea is not impossible, but very many problems have to be solved along the way."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on April 10, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Work on light rail Green Line  credit: Bar Lavi
Work on light rail Green Line credit: Bar Lavi
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