Tourism Minister Yariv Levin dedicated the first five kilometers of a new seaside promenade along the Dead Sea at Ein Boqek on Monday, part of a NIS 200 million ($55 million) project aimed at rescuing the hotel district from flooding.
Although the northern basin of the Dead Sea is shrinking at more than a meter per year, the factories along the evaporation pools in the southern basin are causing the opposite problem: As they extricate minerals, unwanted sediments settle on the bottom and slowly raise the seabed, causing flooding in the hotels closest to the water.
In 2012, the government signed a deal with the Dead Sea Works, a major supplier of potash, for a jointly funded project to save the hotel district. Ein Boqek is one of the last places where visitors can access the Dead Sea, as sinkholes have threatened almost all of the beaches in the northern area. Work began at the end of 2012 and finished at the end of 2016.
“This project started because of a difficult situation with the geography, but we really saw it as an opportunity to make a big revolution, to develop these beaches, to bring them to a new level that we haven’t seen before,” said Levin.
Engineers raised the level of the beach by two meters and installed underground clay berms impenetrable to salt water along the entire length of the hotel district.
Because the beaches were being dug up anyway, planners added the new promenade along the seaside, creating uninterrupted access for visitors. Previously, beaches were divided into hotel areas with no continuous access, even though all beaches along the Dead Sea are considered public land. The project required months of intense negotiation with the hotels in order to create unfettered access along the shore.
In the future, the promenade will be about 12 kilometers long and will connect with new bike and hiking paths developed in the area.
Both the government and the Dead Sea Works are funding the NIS 200 million ($55 million) project. The government is paying 60.5 percent while the Dead Sea Works is paying 39.5%.
Levin said he believed the final deal reached with the Dead Sea Works was an “acceptable agreement.”
“There was very good cooperation,” he said. “These companies are the main source of livelihood in this region — not just the number of jobs but also high-paying jobs.”
While Tamar Regional Council head Dov Litvinoff praised the initiative, he also pleaded with the government to find a permanent solution to the problems facing the Dead Sea’s northern basin.
“The government decision is removing the issues from the southern Dead Sea, but no decision has been made for the northern Dead Sea,” he said. “Even though it’s physically disconnected, it is part of the Dead Sea experience. If the government doesn’t begin to act on this issue we will find ourselves with a big problem.”
Levin also announced plans for a major hotel expansion, including at least a dozen more hotels with 3,700 more hotel rooms along the three-kilometer stretch from Ein Boqek to Hamei Zohar. He said that would add an additional 20,000 jobs to the region. The hotels will be more eco-friendly and will blend into the landscape more than the current high-rises, he said.
Litvinoff welcomed the additional development but warned that the government also needs to invest in improving transportation infrastructure, including building new roads, as there is only one windy, mountainous road from Arad to Ein Boqek that would not stand up to such a large development expansion.
Barbara Aronson, one of the architects who designed the project, said her office envisioned a promenade that would mesh with the landscape, including shade structures that didn’t block the views of the water. She was especially excited about opportunities for visitors to enjoy the promenade at night. Visitors often complain that there are few things to do in the region after dark.
But now, Aronson noted, visitors have the option of strolling along the beachside promenade. “We designed it so that there are no lights on the beach itself, so you will walk along and see the twinkling lights of Jordan, so you will really be able to feel like you’re a part of this incredible desert landscape,” she said. “The Dead Sea has always had lots of nice resorts, but now after dinner you’ll be able to walk for kilometers and enjoy the beach at night.”