Friday, September 19, 1997

LebEnv #37


by Fareed Abou-Haidar

I received a response to my first article on the quarries of Lebanon and the environmental damage they are causing. It is from Mohamad M. Hamzeh, the self-described "bad guy" who feels he will be labeled the anti-environmentalist of SCL!

He says that quarries provide the building blocks of development and that crushed rock must be mined in relatively close proximity to development areas, otherwise construction costs will skyrocket. To that, I answer that Lebanon is in danger of overdevelopment. A lot of the mined rock is being used on grandiose projects that are not vital to the welfare of the country. For example, in 1993 and 1995, I noticed a new, dangerous trend in Lebanon. Until recently, new tall buildings were replacing houses and older buildings of a few floors built before the 1950s. Now, taller buildings built in the 1950s and 1960s, of six, seven or more floors, are being demolished to be replaced by a new generation of fancy "luxury apartments" ten or more floors high. If this trend continues, it could mean that thousands of buildings that survived the war may be demolished. (Hamra Street alone is must have dozens of them; already, the Librarie Antoine building has been destroyed.) This is a needless waste of structurally sound buildings in the name of luxury. It is a needless disruption of neighborhoods. (Have you had the misfortune of living next to a construction site in Beirut? Once is enough for any particular piece of land.) And, guess where much of the material for the new buildings has to come from? Rock quarries! And, guess where the old buildings end up? The dump! Let's stop being so spoiled and just fix up the old buildings that we have, many of which give Beirut its character.

Also proximity of quarries to building sites is relative. Here in Arizona, many gravel quarries are far from development areas, and yet they function. In Lebanon, this is equivalent to having quarries in distant, barren areas where they can cause less damage.

He also says that water pollution and forest fires cause more damage than rock quarries. "Both could produce large scale ecological damage but not quarries in general." To that, I say that, while a forest fire may do damage that may be irreversible in a human's lifetime and may cause erosion, a rock quarry will not only destroy a forest, but the soil and bedrock underneath it. More often than not, the floor of an abandoned quarry is bedrock that cannot support a forest, as are the vertical walls. As for water pollution, as bad as it is, there are high-tech methods to clean it up.

He also says that topography destroyed by quarries is not important if vegetation cover can be restored, saying that topsoil can be reused after the quarry is closed. To this, I say that in a small, highly scenic country like Lebanon that oozes history in every corner, aesthetics are more important than they might be in large countries where some areas can be mined and you still have many areas left intact. Thus, even if a quarry can be revegetated, it still does not belong in the gorge of Nahr Ibrahim or Qadisha or in the mountains above the Bay of Jounieh, just as American mines don't belong in Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or Yosemite National Parks. A restored rock quarry will never resemble the original terrain, and should be regarded as a "better than nothing" solution for second-rate areas where quarries might be allowed and accepted. Legislation is needed to force the reclamation of rock quarries, as most or all of them are on private land.

He also says, "One should keep in mind the lateral and vertical extent of these quarries. I fail to see how few hundred quarries could change the landscape of a mountainous country like Lebanon!!" I answer: When was the last time you went to Lebanon? In 1995, it seemed to me like there was a quarry around every bend in the road. The landscape HAS been changed. The influence of a quarry does not stop at its edge. The quarry in the gorge of Nahr Ibrahim has not only destroyed the mountainside it is in, but has changed the character of the valley for hundreds of meters in any direction. (In tiny Lebanon, "hundreds of meters" really is a long distance).

He also doubts my ballpark estimate of one quarry per ten square kilometers. I was actually surprised that it did not come out to be more than that! Not all rock quarries are the size of the one at Mseilha. They may be much smaller, but they still cause a lot of damage. Lebanon is like a piece of wood being eaten up by termites.

He also rules out the idea of recycling debris from demolished buildings to create gravel, with safety in mind. Well, the recycled gravel does not have to be used in load-bearing situations. It can be used for making material for use in interior walls, parking areas, and other places where utmost strength is not necessary. In the U.S., walls have been built from aluminum cans, straw, even garbage! Gypsum nailed on wood or fastened on steel beams is the method used in the U.S. for interior walls. Although gypsum has to be quarried, less of it is used per area of wall than concrete as used in Lebanon.

He says it is unfeasible to import rock from abroad, and says that Walid Junblatt's suggestion indirectly referred to Syria. My answer: I hope we don't pave the country with roads and buildings to the point where we run out of suitable rock quarries in remote areas and have to resort to Syria. By then, all of Lebanon will have been trashed anyway!

Finally, he gives technical information on how the impact of quarries can be minimized. Dust can be controlled; historical sites can be legally protected; landslides can be prevented with proper engineering; silt erosion can be controlled; and rock quarries can reclaimed after they are closed. To that, I reply: That's fine, and such measures need to be implemented in Lebanon as they are in industrialized countries.

As to water, he says, "That would be hydrogeology as opposed to hydrology. As long as aquifers are not spilled (can't visualize a situation where that can occur), the groundwater level cannot change substantially. There is an effect associated with increased fracturing in the rock due to blasting which increases the rock permeability perhaps casing some redirection of groundwater flows. But such effects are expected to be extremely localized." I reply: The localized redirecting of groundwater flow should still be considered a serious matter, especially if nearby springs are affected. In addition, many rock quarries cross relatively large drainages, totally changing the flow of water through the area.

Mohamad M. Hamzeh's constructive criticism was welcome. We need to keep in mind that while modern methods can be used to control and reverse damage done by rock quarries, we need to keep in mind that a country like Lebanon that is densely populated, with incredible scenery, and that has already been extensively damaged, needs to be handled with special care over and beyond what might be done in most other countries.

Also, my thanks to the two other people who replied agreeing with my views on rock quarries.

(See other photographs from some of the areas mentioned above.)



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