High­est peak plan de­fended by man­ager

Qor­net al-Sawda plan stirs con­tro­versy as ac­tivists worry over en­vi­ron­ment

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - FEA­TURE By Joseph Haboush

BEIRUT: Fol­low­ing the sharp back­lash to the re­cent an­nounce­ment of a ma­jor devel­op­ment project near Le­banon’s high­est peak, the project man­ager flatly re­jected claims it would dam­age the en­vi­ron­ment.

“No one both­ered to make a phone call and ask me about the project,” Pa­trick Ghanem, CEO and part­ner at Realis Devel­op­ment, the project man­ager, told The Daily Star after a flurry of news re­ports and blog posts crit­i­cized the devel­op­ment at Qor­net al-Sawda, seated be­low Mount Le­banon’s peak.

Ghanem added that peo­ple were free to say what they wanted but in­sisted the project, dubbed “AlQumma” or “The Peak,” would be com­pletely ecofriendl­y.

“The en­tire project will use so­lar power,” Ghanem said, adding that the wood and build­ing ma­te­ri­als were im­ported. “A Cana­dian com­pany, which is world-renowned, will be do­ing the master plan … us­ing Amer­i­can and Euro­pean stan­dards, so you can imag­ine the stan­dards that will be set,” he said.

Ghanem did not spec­ify the name of the Cana­dian com­pany.

The de­vel­oper also pointed out that the project will not ac­tu­ally be at Qor­net al-Sawda, as pre­vi­ous re­ports claimed, but nearby. “The land is on ‘Ja­bal 40,’ part of the Bqaa Sifrin Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, sit­ting at 1,200 me­ters al­ti­tude,” Ghanem said.

Bqaa Sifrin is known as be­ing the sum­mer res­i­dence of for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Rashid Karami, who was as­sas­si­nated aboard a he­li­copter as he left his sum­mer home in 1987. It is a lit­tle over 20 km from Tripoli in the Minyeh-Din­nieh dis­trict.

“I want to put Le­banon back on the map and let the world know that we have na­ture here,” Ghanem said. “In the Gulf, they can’t find it no mat­ter how much money they spend,” he said. “Peo­ple can say all they want, but in the Gulf they paid $150 mil­lion to make a nat­u­ral snow re­sort in a box [es­sen­tially].

In­stead, the project man­ager ex­plained that the idea is to use the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment around the devel­op­ment, not to try and cre­ate a new one. “The [lo­ca­tion] has seven to eight months without snow – this project will draw at­ten­tion to those months and its na­ture ,” G han em said.

Fol­low­ing the news of the devel­op­ment, sev­eral online web­sites al­leged that Realis Devel­op­ment was en­tirely be­hind the project and that the family be­hind the com­pany also owns a fi­nance com­pany in Abu Dhabi. Ghanem replied, say­ing “I don’t even own a fi­nan­cial com­pany in Abu Dhabi and the land [for the devel­op­ment] has slowly been pur­chased over the last 10 years – it was not pub­lic prop­erty.”

He also ex­plained that the owner and de­vel­oper was a com­pany named G-1 Group, while Ghanem’s Realis was the project man­ager. “Eq­uity in­vest­ments and bank­ing loans will be used to fund the project, which will be di­vided into phases,” Ghanem said, lay­ing out the plan for po­ten­tial in­vestors.

Ac­tivists have blasted the pro­posed project online since news of the devel­op­ment broke ear­lier this week. How­ever, Ghanem says that there is a huge mis­un­der­stand­ing. “What do you con­sider Mzaar, Kfar Ze­bian and Faraya?” he asked in ref­er­ence to sev­eral of Le­banon’s pop­u­lar ski re­sorts.

“You can sleep in a room for $50 a night or $300 per night, while you can spend $1,000 on din­ner or go to a lo­cal bak­ery and have a mank­oushe for $1,” he said, hit­ting back at claims the site will be ex­clu­sively for the coun­try’s wealthy.

Ghanem stressed that any­one will be able to go to the re­sort as there will be a park with plants and trees that spans 50,000 square me­ters.

Of the fa­cil­i­ties and re­sort’s planned spa, he said “of course the project will be very nice, but it will be cheaper for some­one to re­ceive a well­ness or “cure” pack­age here than trav­el­ing to Europe or the U.S.”

Ghanem also laid out the timetable, say­ing he es­ti­mated the master plan for the full com­plex will take 15 to 16 years to com­plete. In the mean­time, the spa and ho­tel will be ready within the next four to five years. “Bar­ring any un­ex­pected events in the coun­try, the plans will be ma­te­ri­al­ized by this sum­mer and [in­fra­struc­ture] will be com­pleted within the next two years … pi­lot projects and pro­to­type chalets will also be com­pleted,” he said. “I am tired of peo­ple say­ing we don’t have this and that. I want to tell peo­ple that we have it all here, nat­u­rally.”

An artist’s ren­di­tion of the project.

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