The Binyamin Regional Council is also upset that its settlements can not use the landfill, located in their region, precisely at a time when the state has mandated the closure of the dump where they now deposit their trash.
Troubled by the dump’s vulnerable location and its inaccessibility to all, this unusual group of protesters plans to submit an official objection to its construction to the Civil Administration on Sunday.
Led by Roee Simon, SPNI Judea and Samaria coordinator, the effort includes representatives from the local Kaabene Beduin tribe, the Palestinian villages of Ramun and Nu’eima, the Israeli settlements of Mikhmas and Rimonim, the Municipal and Environmental Association of Judea and Samaria and the Binyamin Regional Council, which cover 44 settlements in southern Samaria.
Because the project was officially published on March 8, members of the public have 60 days from that date to file objections to the plans, prior to a public hearing, explained a representative from the German government-owned development bank, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW), which is funding the project.
The future landfill is slated to be located near Rimonim Junction just south of Road 449 and just east of Road 458 (Kavish Alon) in Area C of the West Bank, steps north of the Nahal Makoch Nature Reserve in the north Judean Desert, according to the SPNI.
The nature reserve bears “unique characteristics” due to its location on the border of the central mountain ridge and the Jordan Valley, the stream itself begins in the Beit El mountains near the highest peak in Samaria – Mount Baal-Hazor – and takes “breathtaking meanderings” southeast until it crosses Kavish Alon, an SPNI report explained.
Within the riverbed at the reserve are many caves with rare conditions that allow bats to hibernate, the SPNI report added.
Meanwhile, many archeological sites are also found in the reserve, where various episodes of history associated with the region have unfolded – the land is in close proximity to major historical routes of religious forefathers to Jerusalem and to Jericho.
SPNI listed the Nahal Makoch Nature Reserve as number 90 in its “Israel Planning and Building Threats to Open Spaces: Annual Report for 2013,” that the organization released in January. Not only do environmentalists fear harm to the sanctity of the reserve itself, but also to the groundwater and the stream, as the area is a “hydrologically sensitive” region, according to SPNI.
“We attach great importance to the cooperation of all the bodies which will reach agreements and an effective solution to the problem of solid waste disposal in the space of Binyamin to Ramallah,” said the SPNI statement, drafted by Simon and signed on by all of the objectors.
“Damage to assets of nature and heritage is likely to be devastating to the valuable legacy that is found in the reserve and to our future,” SPNI said, particularly forbidden will be the trash from the Israeli settlements of the area.
As there are only about four legal dumps in the West Bank – only two of which can absorb Israeli garbage – trash from the nearby settlements will be trucked to faraway destinations at high costs both financially and environmentally, in terms of truck exhaust fumes.
“There is a problem in Judea and Samaria with taking care of evacuating garbage in Arab villages and communities and the settlements,” Simon told The Jerusalem Post.
While SPNI sees the criticality in establishing a new landfill for the region, particularly due to the fact that illegal dumping sites plague the area, the organization and its co-protesters stress that the new site must be at an alternative location and accessible to all.
“We are promoting and saying that we see a great importance in determining an organized and administrated site for waste disposal in the space between Binyamin and the Ramallah district,” the objection statement said. “The problem of waste disposal sites operating without legal permits [pirate sites] is a recognized issue and is well known to have devastating and complex consequences within open spaces.”
There are four springs in the reserve, which are natural oases for all the Israelis, Palestinians and Bedouins in the region, Simon told the Post. While financing for the site’s establishing will come from the German development bank KfW and is supposed to be built according to German standards, the bank will not be responsible for its upkeep. As the Palestinian Authority’s sewage treatment facility in Ramallah has not been maintained up to its original standards, the protestors do not trust that the government will be able to maintain the landfill properly.
“If they cannot manage this well, then there could be problems in the landfill,” Simon said. “The nature reserve could be damaged, the animals could be damaged.”
A 14-million euro financing agreement was signed between KfW and the relevant Palestinian government leaders – then Planning and Administrative Development Minister Dr. Ali al-Jarbawi, Local Government Minister Dr. Khaled al-Qawasmi and Joint Service Council Head for Ramallah and Al-Bireh Abed Jabaa – in February last year. Jarbawai praised the German efforts to become involved in Palestinian development programs particularly in the water, waste and educational sectors, and also thanks the bank for its role in acquiring Israeli permits to construct the site in Area C, a press release from the Planning and Administrative Development Ministry said.
The project, the ministry explained, would occur in two stages, to begin in 2013. The first 11m. euro portion would involve implementing the necessary infrastructure, equipment and technical preparation, while the second 3m. euros would be allocated to train working technicians to manage the landfill properly. Qawasmi meanwhile stressed the importance of integrating this project as part of an overall solid waste management strategy launched in 2011. As of May 2011 German bodies have committed 42.5m. euros to Palestinian development projects, according to the Planning Ministry.
While the Planning and Administrative Development Ministry was responsible for overseeing the signing of the bilateral contract with KfW, the government body responsible for overseeing the actual implementation of the plan is the Joint Service Council, which operates under the Local Government Ministry, a representative from the Planning and Administrative Development Ministry told the Post on the phone on Thursday.
Husain Abuoun, executive manager of the Joint Service Council, said the landfill would provide employment to local residents, with priority given to those who live in Ramun due to their proximity to the site, Abuoun said.
As there are 320,000 inhabitants of the Ramalllah-Al-Bireh governate generating 300 tons of trash daily, the landfill will be “a very important international project for the Palestinian people,” according to Abuoun.
The facility will also replace the 78 pirate trash sites in the region, that are “very dangerous” as they are polluting the groundwater and the local environment, he said.
He assured the Post that an environmental-impact assessment was approved for the project by all the relevant environmental authorities, the Palestinian government and the Israeli Civil Administration and that all necessary procedures to prevent the spillage of waste will occur.
The landfill, which will serve three Palestinian cities and 65 villages in the region, will be constructed according to international standards, which will include a storm water drainage system, lining for the ground, leachate drainage and a waste treatment system, he explained.
“The construction of the project will not endanger the area nearby the project, and the area has been never identified by any authority as a nature reserve,” Abuoun said.
In response, Simon argued that the area south of the planned dump’s has, in fact, long been identified as the Nahal Makoch Nature Reserve.
KfW bank decided to provide the funds for this project in order “to solve a big environmental problem in this region” of the sprawling “wild waste dumps” that plague the area, KfW Entwicklungsbank Palestinian Territories Office Director Thomas Eisenbach told the Post on Thursday.
While a technical hearing on the project gave all of the participants a “green light” a year ago, the plans still require a construction permit, which can only be issued following the public hearing, he said.
“We signed as KfW a financing agreement with the PA to commit to these funds and they are earmarked for this project,” Eisenbach continued. “You always have big discussions because who wants a waste dump in their backyard. These are valid discussions and people have to be heard.”
Refuting claims that only the people of Ramallah and Al-Bireh proper would benefit from the dump’s services, Eisenbach stressed his certainty that “the Palestinian villages around there will be included in this project,” although the Israeli settlements would not.
Avi Ro’eh, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, as well as the Binyamin Regional Council, is among those who strongly oppose the project for pragmatic, ideological and environmental reasons.
Trash from the Binyamin region settlements is now dumped at the Psagot landfill site, located in the Binyamin region just east of Ramallah and south of Al-Bireh. Both Ramallah and its Al-Bireh suburb, as well as other Palestinian villages, dump their trash there as well.
The Israeli government, however, plans to close the Psagot landfill in August, a decision that has been backed by the High Court of Justice, Ro’eh told the Post on Thursday.
This intention gives the regional council head only four months to find an alternative.
Thus far, the sole choice offered by the state is to truck the trash to landfills outside his region, either to the facility in Abu Dis or the Tovlan landfill in the Jordan Valley.
Either one is more expensive, because of the added time on the road, but Ro’eh said he has yet to calculate the exact costs.
While Ro’eh said he would prefer to see the state open a new landfill that also accepts settler’s trash in this region, so far the government has refused to do so because it wants the garbage to be handled by already existing landfills with recycling options, he noted. But even if he received permission for such a landfill in his region, he would not place it in Nahal Makoch because it is harmful to the environment, Ro’eh stressed.
On top of that, the Ramun landfill as it is now planned is not being held to the same strict environmental standards as those imposed on Israeli landfills or German ones, he said, contradicting the statements made by Abuoun and by Eisenbach.
The KfW bank is financing the landfill construction here, but their own government would not allow them to build it this way in Germany, Ro’eh asserted.
Nevertheless, he noted, if a landfill does crop up on the Ramun site near Nahal Makoch – under Israeli military control in Area C of the West Bank – Binyamin Regional Council residents should be allowed to access the site, rather than simply Palestinians in the Ramallah and Al-Bireh region. It is illogical, he said, for settlements in his region to spend money to truck trash out of the region, while a landfill exists nearby in an area under Israel control.
If the PA or a European company wants to build a landfill for Palestinians only, they should do so in Areas A or B of the West Bank, he said. If the Civil Administration does not change its mind on the matter, Ro’eh warned that he and the others who oppose the landfill will likely turn to the High Court of Justice.
The Civil Administration did not respond to a series of inquiries submitted by the Post on Thursday about the planned landfill by press time on Saturday night.
However, the Binyamin Regional Council and Municipal Environmental Association of Judea and Samaria relayed to the Post a December 2011 presentation commissioned by the Civil Administration and conducted by the A.Y.G.L. management consulting company, which specializes in solid waste engineering and management. The presentation displays a study of alternative locations for the landfill that had occurred, which ultimately narrowed the choices down to today’s selected Ramun site and another site at the Dayr Dibwan, located southwest of Ramun near Road 60.
The assessment ultimately determined that the availability and feasibility of land acquisition would be easier in Ramun, as this area had been classified as abandoned government property and would not need to be newly expropriated for public purposes, according to the presentation. As far as hydrological sensitivities go, the consultants determined that the Ramun site is largely based on alluvial clay that has natural soil-sealing properties. The rock in Dayr Dibwan was considered more permeable, the consultants said, citing another firm called Geo Prospect.
While the Dayr Dibwan site would be located east of the village proper in the town’s only site available for development, the placement of the Ramun site would not hinder future community development, the presentation said.