This would be Haifa Bay as you have never known it. In the absence of representatives of the Ministry of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Resources; the Ministry of Economy and Industry; and the Ministry of Finance; representatives of Israel Land Authority (ILA) presented an ambitious “Innovation Valley” plan to the Haifa District Planning and Building Commission.
The plan, which is of national strategic importance, provides for terminating all petrochemical industry operations in Haifa Bay, including all the oil refineries. If the plan is carried out, it will substantially reduce the size of the oil industry in Israel, with the tank farms being moved away from Kiryat Haim and Kiryat Tivon, probably to Ramat Hanegev. The plan is to build a new city in their place.
“There is an opportunity here to create Israel’s Venice. This plan is a priceless opportunity,” Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem said during the meeting.
The area of the plan lies between Road 75 (between Haifa and Yagur), west of Road 70 (between Yagur and Somech Interchange), south of Kiryat Ata and Kiryat Haim, and east of the port. According to the plan presented, 80,000-100,000 housing units would be built, with two million square meters of business space – in other words a large city. This can also be seen from the size of the plan, which covers 9,125 acres, about the same size as Netanya. MK Miki Haimovich (Blue and White), who attended the special meeting, said that as of now, the plan seemed like a dream, “but everyone’s job is to make sure that it doesn’t stay a dream.”
NIS 1.5 billion in purification costs
The meeting resembled Isaiah’s vision of the lion lying down with the lamb in real estate: representatives of environmental organizations present in the District Planning and Building Committee’s offices each stood up and welcomed the plan in turn – an unprecedented event in the Planning Administration’s offices. Among other things, what enchanted all of the people in the hall was the character of the future city. According to the plan, the built-up space in the city will cross a system of water canals and streams and pools to be created by water from flooding in this area. Actually, if the plan is realized, future residents will be able to take pride in living next to the streams. Also included in the plan are five marinas to be built on the hillside of the Kishon River, whose source will be diverted slightly northward from its current location near Israel Shipyards in the direction of Arye Shenkar Road.
Long before the plan is carried out, however, there are many obstacles to overcome, as ILA Haifa district manager Shai Karp, who participated in the discussion, admitted. The first problem is gaining the cooperation of Oil Refineries Ltd. (TASE:ORL) and the government ministries involved in economics and energy. All of these parties were absent from the discussion, and that was probably no accident – all of them have previously expressed opposition to the plan, in contrast to the Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon, who supported moving it forward.
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Another obstacle is paying for it. In addition to the costs involved in building a new city, there are also the costs of vacating the enterprises and purifying the land, which has absorbed industrial toxic waste for the past 80 years. Baruch Borochov, who is responsible for the plan’s economic viability, emphasized at the meeting that the plan had to finance itself from the marketing of land. “One of the studies we did was an appraisal, which found that the value of the land in the area would reach NIS 13 billion. Where pollution is concerned, the soil is oily and creates a barrier down to a depth of five meters, so that the costs of purifying the groundwater and draining the water and the land are believed to be in the NIS 1.25-1.75 billion range,” he explained. “Purifying the land will be combined with marketing it, so that the project will be a closed economic unit in which revenue from the land will fund the purification and development work.”
Another challenge is planning. The Haifa Bay area is based on the outline plane for the Haifa district, Tamam 6, while the plan that was presented now is a shell plan that must be filled with planning content, A few months ago, ILA planning department director Rafi Elmaliach told “Globes” that ILA had decided to skip over this stage, and begin direct detailed planning for 9,000 housing units. These housing units are slated for construction in the tanks farm area in western Kiryat Haim, next to Yagur Junction, where there are almost no problems with polluted land, so the process can be started. This idea has been criticized, because it incurs a risk that the authorities will open certain areas, while other areas, the plan will be delayed for many years.
A different approach was mentioned at the District Planning and Building Commission meeting – going by the book and revising Tamam 6. Haifa district planner Liat Peled hinted in this context that the District Planning and Building Commission was open to ideas for changing the outline plan, which did not meet the goals facing it and had not managed to arrest the Haifa district’s economic and population decline. “We went over Tama 6, and put a very big question mark next to it,” Peled says, adding, “At a time when metropolitan Tel Aviv is growing and getting stronger, only a plan for changing the situation can give metropolitan Haifa and the north a boost.”
Meanwhile, a new power plant in Haifa Bay
One of the plan’s supporters is the National Economic Council, chaired by Prof. Avi Simhon, whose deputy, Yuval Admon, took part in the discussions. Admon said that the National Economic Council had concluded that it was possible to get along without the oil refineries, and that the plan was economically viable. Like other speakers, however, he warned against establishing facts on the ground.
One such fact was discussed immediately after the meeting on the Innovation Valley plan ended. Oil Refineries made a request for approval of a new power station to supply electricity and steam to the company’s facilities, which will be built an a 25-dunam (6.25-acre) site. Although a representative of the Ministry of Environmental Protection said at the meeting that she had instructed Oil Refineries to conduct a environmental impact survey, so that there is still time before the power plan is built, Peled emphasized that Oil Refineries’ plan complied with Tamam 6, so that in principle, if it meets all of the conditions, there will be nothing stopping approval of the power station, which is located in the area of the giant plan presented.
Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on January 20, 2020
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