Fri, 20 Sep 1996
LEBANON'S COASTLINE FACES MORE DEVELOPMENT?
by Fareed Abou-Haidar
While I was not scheduled to post LebEnv until next Friday, I decided that the following story needs to be publicized immediately. I will return in two weeks rather than next week as originally planned.
In a report by Reuter dated September 18 and originating from Beirut, as retrieved from America Online, economist Marwan Iskandar suggested that the government sell off state land to help overcome the deficit. The key sentence was: "MILLIONS OF SQUARE METERS OF STATE LAND ALONG UNUSED COASTAL RAILWAY TRACKS COULD ALSO BE SOLD". (My emphasis) For copyright reasons, I chose not to include the whole article. It should be easily available from America Online for a few more days or from the Internet.
I am sorry to read that Marwan Iskandar is advocating the selling of land along railway tracks to reduce the deficit. The brief paragraph did not make it clear if the land to be sold was the narrow railroad right-if-way or if it included larger areas of land beyond, but "millions of square meters" would imply larger areas beyond the tracks. It also did not mention whether the sold land would continue to be used for rail service or if it would be developed for other uses, such as buildings. The fact that only "unused tracks" would be sold implies that the buyer could do anything with that land while the state would keep tracks being used.
There are two reasons why this would be an extremely short-sighted move:
1. Lebanon is already choking on car traffic, especially along the coast. Already, a large area of the coast's limited fertile land has been sacrificed for freeways. If Lebanon follows the trend of U.S. cities, theses freeways will soon be as crowded as the older roads that they replaced as people are encouraged to drive more. A much better solution would be to build a decent public transit system with passenger train service between Tyre, Beirut and Tripoli as its backbone. Such a railroad system could also be used for freight, removing many of those smelly, slow, dangerous trucks from the roads. The only way this can be done is to use the existing railroad right-of-way. Selling this artery would be a travesty. Many railroad right-of-ways in the U.S. have been sold, making people more dependent on cars and trucks in many parts of the country, with little hope of reversing the trend. Cars clog multi-lane freeways and huge trucks routinely crash, killing innocent people and blocking roads for hours. Lebanon should learn from the U.S.'s messy mistakes.
2. Lebanon's coast already has too much construction. Many beaches have been destroyed (as I mentioned in LebEnv #5). In many places, the views of the sea from the highway has been blocked by beach resorts, commercial buildings, apartments, factories etc. The presence of the railroad right-of-way (and surrounding state lands, if such is the case) ensures that some land will never be developed and will remain open space where spring wildflowers can grow and views of the coast are unblocked. Besides the obvious benefits to the Lebanese, rest assured that many tourists come to Lebanon for its beaches and scenic views, not to look at ugly buildings.
If anything, there already is too much private land in Lebanon, every square meter of which could theoretically be developed. The government should hold to whatever land it owns as a national treasure. It might be wise to trade land with the private sector so that the government can obtain ecologically sensitive lands in exchange for other lands that might be more suitable for development. BUT, it should not sell land outright. Selling off government land has been proposed many times in the USA, most recently by the present anti-environmental Congress, but such plans have been shot down by public outcry. The Lebanese should do the same.
Anyone who has access to Mr. Iskandar should contact him and make him aware of the problems associated with selling off government land in Lebanon.