Last April, the Shura council reversed their decision that repealed the construction permit of the Eden Rock Resort at Beirut’s Ramlet al Baida beach. Despite the clear violations of a number of environmental and other laws, the court provided no reasons to the plaintiffs or public for their decision.
In the aftermath of this decision, the President of Lebanon requested the State Minister for Combatting Corruption to investigate the project and report on the findings. The Minister delegated the Head of the Order of the Engineers to prepare a study on the proposed project. The study concluded that the project had committed 8 violations and recommended the immediate suspension of the project. The following is a brief summary of the 8 violations:
- The illegal annexation of four other plots of land in the construction area;
- Illegally canceling the prohibition of construction on two of the plots of land;
- The construction area exceeded the permissible area that was legally determined (the facility is wider and contains more floors);
- Encroachment on public maritime property;
- Does not take into consideration the natural characteristics of the area and therefore violates the National Physical Master Plan for the Lebanese Territory;
- No environmental study was done prior to the construction of the project and therefore violates the Environmental Protection law and Fundamentals of Environmental Impact Assessment Decree;
- Violates the Maritime Property Decree;
- Violates the building code.
These violations are not minor and some even go as far as theft of public land. The complete disregard to environmental, construction, and land laws is astonishing, especially when even the Shura Council, the highest judiciary in Lebanon, were unwilling to ensure the legality of this project. The President’s request for an investigation is very welcoming and hopefully will lead to some rectification of these transgressions, more importantly, pave the way for more effective enforcement and rule of law.
The Environmental Protection law and the EIA decree were specifically designed to protect the environment from large projects like this. While the precedent of illegal coastal construction has been set a long time ago, this project may lead to environmental, land, and building laws becoming irrelevant in Lebanon.
Last month, after Eden Rock Resort was permitted to continue construction, a resort in the south of Lebanon began construction on agricultural land, adjacent to a sandy beach that is in close proximity to a sea turtle conservation site. The loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) and the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) are endangered species and lay their eggs on this beach.
There is no evidence that any type of environmental study was carried out and the fact that the plot is categorized as an agricultural land makes building a resort on it illegal. If these resorts continue to operate above the law, the Lebanese will be robbed of their coast, which will transform into a chain of high end facilities serving only one segment of the population and destroying the maritime ecosystem.
Last week, the Lebanese parliament ratified a law on illegal occupation of public maritime property. The law contains fine for violators ranging from USD 3,300 to 331,000. While the fines may seem like a positive step, when you consider that there are over 2 million square meters of coastal property that are illegal and unlicensed, this could enable the violators to maintain their property by simply paying the fine. The priority should be to disband these illegal establishments, not to normalize it through monetary compensation.