Abandoned quarries being rehabilitated into parks, lakes, amphitheaters

Used quarries throughout the country have been amazingly rehabilitated by the Quarry Rehabilitation Fund.


As the sun set on Thursday in the Avital Valley – a few kilometers from the Syrian border – miniature replicas of cone-shaped volcanoes that once erupted at the site glowed again in an automated light show.

The once volcanic Avital, which later became a valued quarrying spot, is to be inaugurated as a park this Passover. It is one of several quarries throughout the country being rehabilitated by the Quarry Rehabilitation Fund.

In an effort to ensure that mine and quarry lands are economically viable after projects are completed, the fund collects royalties from developers while the quarrying is being carried out, the percentage of which depends on the value of the minerals being harvested.

With royalties collected from the various developers, the fund administrators are then able to prioritize rehabilitation as they see fit, including that of abandoned Golan Heights quarries whose former miners are not accountable to the State of Israel because they are Syrian.

“We all live in houses. All of the houses, except for doors made of wood, come from materials in mines,” said Yossi Bar-Niv, the Israel Lands Authority’s representative to the fund, during a press tour of rehabilitated quarries on Thursday.

Operating under the Mining Ordinance of 1923, the Quarry Rehabilitation Fund is an independent state foundation initiated in 1973 and activated in 1978. While the fund does not belong to any particular government office, it functions in cooperation with the Israel Lands Authority and the Energy and Water Ministry, with additional representation from the Interior Ministry, the Finance Ministry, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry.

At its head is the Energy and Water Ministry’s natural resources director, Yossi Wurzberger.

Once the Quarry Rehabilitation Fund deems a site abandoned and ready for rehabilitation, the fund and ILA representatives together come up with an ideal plan for the area – be it to convert it into an open space, an industrial zone or a public park, fund officials explained.

Next, the fund must get both the district committee for planning and building, and the relevant local authority that will be managing the site after its rehabilitation, on board.

After these approvals have been received, first rights to carrying out the rehabilitation – and subsequent return of their royalty payments – belong to the quarry developers, and second rights belong to the winner of a fund-issued tender, officials said.

Syrians mined basalt, scoria and tuff in the Avital Valley until Israel took over the Golan Heights, so the decision on who would carry out the rehabilitation was left to the fund administrators. Avital’s history of violently eruptive volcanoes from 700,000 to 100,000 years ago stands as a reminder of the country’s lava-laden past.

Tsurnamal Turner Landscape Architecture, the firm now responsible for the site’s rehabilitation, has revamped it with those volcanoes in mind, with black, porous scoria pebbles lining the ground along with asphalt, and iconic volcanic models that pop up from the ground.

A “take one” basket allows visitors to bring home a chunk of volcanic rock, and they can even touch the tremendous walls that were once quarried. One of the model volcanoes is sliced into a cross-section, and during the light show visitors can see a representation of lava flow.

In Karmiel, some 75 km. southwest of Avital, residents now enjoying a completely rehabilitated, 5- hectare (12.4-acre) oasis that was once a limestone quarry.

The Karmiel quarries rehabilitation process began about 15 years ago, as the population increased with aliya from the former Soviet Union and more urban housing and recreational space were needed, explained Tzvi Ziv, secretary of the Quarry Rehabilitation Fund. The rehabilitation cost about NIS 10 million, and the municipality still needs to invest approximately NIS 700,000 annually for the park’s upkeep. Cooperation with the relevant municipality is vital in any such project, Ziv stressed.

“Every day when children finish school, this area is packed,” Bar-Niv said.

While parts of the park are peppered with sculptures from an annual city competition, others are left to nature, with an abundance of wild bushes and deep purple and red anemones. An amphitheater constructed from natural limestone mined in the area and once filled with garbage, now hosts events, Bar- Niv said. In addition to providing an entertainment locale for the city’s residents, the amphitheater contains a drainage system that collects the park’s rainfall, later used to water its greenery, he added.

Another path leads to a waterfall that flows into a recirculating pond system at the foot of a grassy hill.

The water trickles down grooves in the stone walls that remind visitors of the rock slabs quarried from these sites, Tzvi said. Not far from the pond is a meticulously-kept garden of 6,000 roses, already in full blooming in the cool February temperatures.

Zichron Ya’akov’s Shfeyah quicklime (calcium oxide) quarry, about 70 km. southwest of Karmiel, has not shared the luck of Avital and Karmiel. The rehabilitation fund conducted a design competition in 2005 for Shfeyah’s revival, but the Zichron Ya’akov Regional Council did not approve the selected winner, Ziv said. The fund administrators then agreed on a second candidate, but they are still stuck in a disagreement with the council as to whether to go forward with this alternative, he explained.

“Here we saw how important cooperation with each local authority is,” Ziv added. “We can’t do anything without their cooperation.”

Not far away, the Binyamina gravel quarry is being rehabilitated in stages. Revival of its northern section has been completed after 20 years work, as the developers of the area – the Rothschild family’s Yad Hanadiv foundation – quickly agreed to implement a plan, Ziv said. There, the once naked terraces created during quarrying now bear footpaths, and trees and other vegetation.

Reaching an agreement on a rehabilitation plan for the central and southern portions of the quarry, which were developed by the ILA and were active until 2007 and 2009, respectively, has taken longer, Bar-Niv said. Now, however, all parties are ready to move forward and are awaiting district committee approval, which should be given within the next few months. From there, the revival effort, which is to include a large man-made lake and a museum dedicated to Israeli quarries, will take about a year, he added.

“We hope that birds will come back to this area,” Bar-Niv said.

Even though mines damage the environment, their operation – as well as their later rehabilitation – remain crucial to the state, he said.

“If we want to be a modern country, we need quarrying,” Bar-Niv concluded.


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