TEL AVIV (Jul. 25)
A state panel decided Tuesday to begin construction immediately of a $300 million Voice of American relay station in the Negev, overruling the objections of environmentalists.
The decision will go to the Cabinet for approval in the next few days, after which it must clear the Knesset, according to Dov Kehat, director general of the Interior Ministry.
The 19-6 vote by the National Building and Planning Council reversed a decision last month to postpone the project until a two-year study of its effects on humans and wildlife in the region is completed. Israeli and American officials had demanded the new vote, saying a majority of council members were not present for the first vote.
Yoav Saggy, chairman of the board of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, announced that his group would ask the High Court of Justice to overrule the decision.
The U.S. Embassy issued a statement Tuesday welcoming the go-ahead. American pressure in fact may have influenced the decision.
The huge station consists of 37 antennas as high as 300 feet and 16 transmitters with a capacity of 500 kilowatts each.
Its opponents contend that the electromagnetic radiation generated by the transmitters would pose health hazards for local residents and endanger migratory birds.
But Kehat insisted that the panel had weighed all environmental factors after it visited the site and heard evidence about the effects of similar high-power transmitters operating in the United States.