Highest peak plan defended by manager
Qornet al-Sawda plan stirs controversy as activists worry over environment
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.