The ministry of environment has drafted a decree to name the rocky coast of Dalieh as a national protected area, a ministry official said today.
The move may create a significant obstacle for real estate developers who plan build a major private project on the Dalieh of Raouche coast, which is one of Beirut’s last remaining public shores.
“We have drafted a decree classifying the site as a natural site under the protection of the Ministry of Environment,” said Lara Samaha, the head of the department of ecosystems at the ministry.
The announcement came as a bit of a surprise during a press conference that was intended to announce a design competition for public use of the hilly area, marked by limestone cliffs and natural lagoons.
The move is seen as a victory for activists who have been campaigning for over a year to keep Dalieh a public shore, free and open for swimming and picnics as it has been for generations.
“We are giving importance to the site–otherwise we would not have held it (the contest) on our premises and under the auspices of the ministry of environment,” said Samaha.
She added that the site was of high ecological and scenic value and access to it should be “a right for all Lebanese citizens.”
Samaha was joined on stage by activists from the Civil Campaign to Protect Dalieh, Amira El Halabi and Abir Saksouk-Sasso, who lauded the work of many volunteer professionals and activists who have tirelessly lobbied the ministry and other government bodies.
The audience erupted in cheers and clapping when Samaha made the announcement, which was covered by local television channel LBC and a number of other news reporters.
Saksouk-Sasso said the Civil Campaign would soon be launching the website at www.dalieh.org to begin receiving submissions for the contest to design Dalieh as a public space, which will be open to both professionals and students. She said the site is expected to be online by the end of the day.
The website will contain maps and guidelines to be used by contestants as well as names the members of the jury, including prominent local and international architects and design professionals.
“We are not only trying to resist the private project, we are also trying to provide alternatives to see what people can come up with to make this a public space for the city,” Saksouk-Sasso said.
The ministry’s draft law will now be submitted to the legislative court known as the Shura Council for approval and then be sent to the council of ministers for a vote. Samaha said she thought it had a good chance of passing.
(For background on the controversial plan to develop Dalieh into a private project, see my in-depth piece last week in The Guardian.)
UPDATE: I was finally able to upload a video of Samaha talking about the draft law. (Lebanon’s internet is super slow)
She was hopeful the bill would pass:
UPDATE 2: Samaha has asked the video be removed because she was not authorized to do a video interview. Instead I will publish the transcript of what was said:
“The ministry of environment has prepared a draft a decree classifying the site as a natural site under the protection of the ministry of environment and we have sent it to concerned authorities to get approval and after to be sent to the council of ministers.”
“It means no industry is allowed on the site–classified establishments as industries, whether small or big, on the site– any establishment that will be constructed on the site needs to get the approval of the ministry of environment and needs to undergo an environmental impact assessment (EIA) sent to the ministry of environment for review and to get its approval or not on any establishments there, whether resort, building.
So a resort can still be built there?
“But under an EIA study and maybe the EIA study will be rejected anyway by the minister. So under very specific conditions and after getting the approval of the ministry on this matter.”
Who needs to approve it next?
“Now we have sent it to the Shura council and after we get their approval, they will send us back the file and we will send it to the council of ministers.”
How significant is today’s event for the campaign to protect the site?
“We are giving importance to that otherwise we wouldn’t make it in our premises and under the auspices of the minster of environment.”
Are you hopeful it will pass?
“The decree, yes, it should, hopefully, hopefully. ”
Correction: In a previous version of this post, the term “draft law” was used. It should be clarified that the term is “draft decree” which is still legally binding if passed. The difference in Lebanon is that decrees are issued by ministries and voted on by cabinet while laws are voted on by Parliament.