Trees and parks to be axed for Metro and light rail

Trees in Jaffa's Jerusalem Blvd.

Thousands of trees will be felled and Tel Aviv parks turned into building sites. Environmentalists insist the damage can be reduced.

An investigation by "Globes" and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V'Din) has found that the plans for building the Metro and light rail in the Greater Tel Aviv Metropolitan area will result in thousands of trees being cut down.

According to the plans for the Metro that have been deposited, 17,000 of the 31,000 trees along the route of the underground railway system will be chopped down, with only 200 trees slated to be uprooted and moved.

As part of the work on the light rail's Red, Purple and Green Lines, 7,200 trees will be cut down out of the 16,000 trees along the route and 30 trees will be moved. Moreover, the overall number of trees cut down could increase as work proceeds, according to the real time problems arising in the field as plans are implemented.

A large percentage of the trees that will be lost are defined as having high environmental value. In other words large, mature trees that absorb major amounts of carbon dioxide, provide shade and are generally part of an area's ecosystem.

These 24,200 trees will join the roughly 25,000 trees that are cut down each year in Israel to make way for new construction and infrastructure projects.

The loss of trees must be weighed against the needs posed by Israel's growing population and the large public projects required by the Gush Dan region. The Bank of Israel estimates that the annual damage to Israel's economy caused by the traffic jams in the Greater Tel Aviv region is already NIS 35 billion and this figure will double by 2040, if the Metro project is not built. And this does not take into account the chronic air pollution and damage to quality of life caused by these jams.

Adam Teva V'Din urban planner Namir Kessar believes that it is possible to build large projects, while minimizing damage to the environment. "We are not against the Metro. We understand its importance as a basis for better public transport in Gush Dan and the need to sometimes have to cut down trees out of development considerations, when there is no other choice.. But it has to be done in a logical way."

In addition to the trees cut down on the streets and properties overlooking the routes of the light rail and metro, some parks will also become building sites where construction and engineering companies can place their equipment and this will also require trees to be felled. Kessar complains that there is no transparency in the plans and the public simply has no way of knowing what is being done and if it is necessary.

Kessar added, "Until we actually get to use the metro, new trees can be grown public spaces and the situation can be restored to what it was, or even improved. Ultimately, most people will walk to the stations and that requires shade and creating streets that are pleasant to walk in and certainly in an era of climate crisis."

One of Tel Aviv's parks, which is supposed to become a building site is Gan Hakovshim in Neve Tzedek, opposite Charles Clore Park on Tel Aviv seafront. NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System, which is implementing the light rail and Metro projects, has asked that the park become a site for storing engineering equipment and that 70% of its trees be cut down. The plan has aroused opposition from local residents and Dr. Erez Barkai, the National Forest Commissioner at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has weighed in on the residents' side and not approved.

Barkai said, "We are talking about historic trees that have been in the park since it was established in the 1950s and a memorial to Etzel and Haganah fighters was set up. All the trees planted there are healthy and so there is no reason to cut them down but an alternative solution must be found including choosing a different site. We see major importance in preserving their contribution to the landscape including shade and reducing the heat in the city. Consequently we didn't approve the developer's request."

Kessar cautions that just because the Commissioner did not approve it then it won't happen and he stresses that there are large car parks in the surrounding area, some owned by the municipality, which can be used instead.

NTA responded, "Having an area in which to organize in Gan Hakovshim is vital in order to build future Metro stations there, in what is defined as a national project. NTA is working to locate a suitable place in the area and among other things Gan Hakovshim was considered. The issue of the trees in the park was discussed with the Forest Commissioner and the municipality and NTA was asked to conduct a survey of trees in order to minimize the damage to the trees and the landscape. Final approval for the organization site is in the hands of the Committee for National Infrastructures where all the objections will be presented. As a policy, NTA strives to reduce harm to the values of nature and the environment and will work to restore the organizational site after the work is completed."

NTA added, "The survey of trees approved by the National Forest Commissioner is included as part of the threshold for submitting plans and attached to the Metro plan when it was filed with the Committee for National Infrastructures. Objections can be submitted to the plan after it was filed with the Committee and in accordance with the time set by law."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 16, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Trees in Jaffa's Jerusalem Blvd.
Trees in Jaffa's Jerusalem Blvd.
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