Lebanon News

Officials trade blame over sewer flood

Beirut Mayor Jamal Itani speaks on a mobile phone as bulldozers remove cement that had been poured underground in Ramlet al-Baida, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Officials traded blame over the weekend for a flood of sewage and rainwater in Beirut’s Ramlet al-Baida last week that followed heavy rains, with the Ghobeiry Municipality faulting the Beirut Municipality and Governor Ziad Chebib.

According to a statement late Saturday from the Ghobeiry Municipality, the flooding occurred after the Beirut Municipality blocked a sewage drain that dumped water into the sea on Ramlet al-Baida with concrete, “in service of private touristic projects,” in an apparent reference to the controversial Eden Bay Resort.

Soon after the flooding took place Friday the sewer in question was revealed to be blocked with concrete and Chebib said during a news conference the following day that Eden Bay was the party responsible.

Chebib said it was “nonsense” that he was accused of having caused the flooding. “What should I have done, stopped the rain? What is this nonsense? ... I’m not the one responsible,” he told The Daily Star Sunday.

He said the Internal Security Forces should have prevented any assault on public property, and “any violation that happened took place without my knowledge and without my consent.”

The Ghobeiry Municipality’s statement was a response to Chebib’s comments Saturday, in which he accused the municipality, Eden Bay, three restaurants and the Council for Development and Reconstruction of being responsible for the flooding.

Bahij Abou Mjahed, the lawyer of Achour Holding that owns Eden Bay, told The Daily Star that the resort was not responsible for filling the sewer with concrete, and said the group supported a technical investigation into Beirut’s sewer system. But Abou Mjahed said the real issue was a failure on the part of the governor and the CDR to properly deal with Beirut’s sewage system. “Now the sewer is running again, dumping sewage through a piece of private property on Ramlet al-Baida and into the sea. Is that an achievement? Bravo, I applaud them,” he said.

Indeed, wastewater could Sunday be seen running from the sewer a few meters away from the Eden Bay resort and into the Mediterranean.

State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud Saturday evening instructing the Internal Security Forces to conduct an immediate investigation into the matter. Chebib said the municipality too had its own internal investigation.

In an effort to discover the truth, Beirut MPs will Monday head to a Beirut court and file a lawsuit against “whoever is responsible,” MP Nazih Najem, who heads Parliament’s Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee, told The Daily Star. “We heard from the governor one day ... the Beirut Municipality and then the Ghobeiry Municipality replied, so we want to know the truth,” he added.

He said that all MPs were invited, in what he described as a cross-partisan effort. “It’s right of the MPs and the Lebanese people to know.”

So far, all sides have blamed each other. Chebib said Saturday that the Ghobeiry Municipality had prevented Beirut’s sewage from passing through a pumping station in its area and through its network, further increasing the pressure on Beirut’s network.

The Beirut Municipality had made an effort to find an alternative for Beirut’s sewage, creating a new sewage exit point at the northern end of Ramlet al-Baida, but that proved to be insufficient for the large amount of wastewater caused by the rain.

Meanwhile, the Ghobeiry Municipality said they had contacted the CDR and the Water Authority of Beirut and Mount Lebanon on Aug. 4, asking the water authority not to pump sewage through the municipality’s systems because its infrastructure is insufficient to handle the amounts of sewage and flood water.

The Ghobeiry Municipality also alleged Chebib had created the alternative exit for the sewage at Ramlet al-Baida’s northern end “in an expedited manner” to “serve commercial projects,” again in apparent reference to Eden Bay, which lies at the beach’s southernmost point.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 19, 2018, on page 2.

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