The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Itani denies intent to build incinerato­r in Karantina

- By Federica Marsi

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.”

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