Itani denies intent to build incinerator in Karantina
BEIRUT: A waste-to-energy project sparked protests in Karantina last week when residents and local representatives received word that the area had been chosen as the site for the incineration system’s construction.
Beirut Mayor Jamal Itani, however, dismissed the news as hearsay. “We have not decided yet where to implement the plant,” Itani told The Daily Star. When asked why the residents had been misinformed, Itani said “rumors” had spread because “some of the politicians are trying to gain ground in Karantina,” but refused to elaborate further.
The proposed waste-to-energy plant is a project spearheaded by the Beirut mayor and touted as the municipality’s solution to the ongoing waste crisis. But the project has sparked opposition from segments of Lebanon’s civil society who oppose the incineration of waste.
“Even if the plant is within norms and regulations, an incinerator pollutes,” Raja Noujaim, an environmental activist, told The Daily Star at the Karantina protest last week. “In Lebanon, our [additional] problem is that nothing is [carried out] within norms and regulations.”
Former Karantina mukhtar Francois Jalkh referred to the proposed plant as the “incinerator of death” and said the neighborhood’s community would oppose any such project. Some residents in the area – which already accommodates two open-air dumps – even aired the possibility of requesting the separation of Karantina from Beirut Municipality.
Itani, however, dismissed the residents’ concerns. “The location will be risk-free to the people in the area and all measures will be taken to ensure that it will not bother [residents] but instead enhance the economy of the area,” he said.
The municipality has appointed a consultant to develop a master plan designed to transform Karantina into a major economic hub of Beirut, according to Itani. “I don’t want to talk about these plans before they are [consolidated] but very soon we will start construction of a new economic area [in Karantina],” he said.
When asked whether this plan excludes the possibility of the wasteto-energy plant being implemented in Karantina, Itani remained vague. “We have not decided yet where to implement the plant, so I cannot say anything further,” he said.
According to sources who have participated in some of the meetings regarding the plant, the project has not been well-received at the presidential palace and the issue has devolved into a row between Itani’s political backers and Aoun’s office.
Local activists in the area voiced suspicions of a possible connection between the choice of Karantina and the presence of Jihad al-Arab’s company – Al-Jihad for Commerce and Contracting – among the four joint ventures pre-selected as bidders.
JCC has been awarded several public construction projects in the past – some of which have been in or adjacent to Karantina – including the former Normandy dumpsite, the Karantina and Amrousieh waste sorting plants, as well as a storage facility and the Coral composting facility in Burj Hammoud. All of these projects have been subject to public criticism over alleged mismanagement, sparking debate as to whether JCC should be empowered to operate yet another facility.
Itani assured The Daily Star that the selection of the companies had been conducted by the United Nations Development Program, with no interference by the municipality. He dismissed any claims that Jihad al-Arab’s company was being given any advantage over the others.
“The location is provided by the municipality and not by the contractor,” Itani said, implying that JCC would not have a say in where the plant would be. “The municipality will provide the land and we will take an equity share in the company. We will continue to have a hand in the control of the operation in the plant.”
At present, the Danish consulting company Ramboll is preparing the tender documents for the project, which will define the size, shape and other specifics of the plant. “When these criteria have been defined, then we will select a location,” Itani said.
Alongside J CC, the other local p re qualified contractors include Was sim Ammache’s Ramco, Antoine Azour’s Batco and Michel Abi Nader’s Man. They have each partnered up with international companies – respectively Doosan (Korean), Hitachi (Japanese), and Vinci (French). JCC has partnered with Suez (French) and another international company.
While waste-to-energy plants in Europe generally produce mostly heat and a smaller proportion of electrical energy, the winning bidder for this project will be required to design a plant that boosts energy production. Itani vows that this energy will then be sold to Lebanon’s national electricity company and redistributed to the public. The contractor will also be responsible for shipping the ashes – a hazardous material left over from the process – to countries where it can be adequately treated.
As for now, Itani says it will take at least six months to conclude the preliminary studies. “We will conduct an environmental impact assessment, a traffic impact assessment and a social impact assessment before we select the location,” he said. Although the waste crisis has already taken a heavy toll on Karantina, Itani said the area would be safeguarded. “It’s the entrance to Beirut,” he said. “We will never do anything to hurt this area.”