An Industrial Coast for Mount Lebanon

More than 1.35 million square meters (m²) of this coastal area has been converted into exclusive tourist resorts in addition to fuel depots and industrial facilities. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Mohammad Zbeeb

Published Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mount Lebanon’s northern coastal jurisdiction is lined with resorts, industrial facilities, and fuel depots. While parts of these facilities have been constructed legally, most have superseded their original licenses and built deeper into public property. The result is a coastline so developed and concretized that it’s barely visible. Al-Akhbar singles out the oil companies and developers who have taken the biggest cut.

In the 1990s, a study conducted by two consulting companies, IAURIF and ECODIT, showed that more than 81 percent of the 51 kilometer-long coast between the Bay of Jounieh and Beirut Airport was in the grip of wealthy and powerful individuals.

This trend is evident in satellite images of the area, where one can see the gross encroachments onto what should be public property for all Lebanese. The shoreline between Byblos and al-Metn, including areas in Keserwan, is effectively under occupation.

Public property in the Bay of Jounieh, as well as the shore of Maameltein and Zouk, has all but disappeared. What’s left are small rocky areas that the general public can access through farmlands located between Nahr Ibrahim and Nahr al-Kalb.

The violations against the beachfront and the sea in the various coastal districts of Mount Lebanon can be said to be the worse in the country, compared to other provinces.

It would not be an exaggeration to go even further and say this part of the coast has become a gold mine for those seeking illicit enrichment thanks to a type of neo-feudalism, as well as the impactful civil war era ties with the Lebanese Forces militia and the Kataeb Party.

More than 1.35 million square meters (m²) of this coastal area has been converted into exclusive tourist resorts in addition to fuel depots and industrial facilities.

In truth, the current market value of these spaces is estimated to be in excess of $15 billion. They also bring in tens of millions of dollars annual profit, rentier in nature, to about 250 aggressors on public property.

No doubt, these aggressors have benefited from political immunity so they are better able to engage in piracy, occupation, and sabotage against the beachfront, as well as the nearby natural and historical sites. Moreover, this part of Mount Lebanon is the site of some incidents of double encroachment, that is, on both seafront and riverfront public property, as is the case with the Holiday Beach resort located on the mouth of al-Kalb River.

The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation report on these violations of public property shows the sheer magnitude of encroachment on state properties in Byblos, Keserwan and al-Metn. For instance, out of 33 pertinent decrees issued for the entire Lebanese coast, 23 went to the occupants of the seafront here.

These decrees have permitted their recipients to reclaim the sea, and invest the water features and certain parts of the beach in an area of 746,950 m², or up to two-thirds of spaces “licensed” for occupation throughout the entire Lebanese coast.

Remarkably, the majority of licenses issued are for vast chunks of land. In the case of the Automobile et Touring Club du Liban (ATCL), the licensed areas amount to approximately 99,000 m².

In the case of Shell oil company in Burj Hammoud, the licensed area is 72,000 m². Other energy firms such as Medco, TOTAL, Mobil, and Uniterminals in Baouchrieh possessed licensed areas of 52,600 m², 33,970 m², 43,000 m², and 28,600 m² respectively.

Similarly, companies like Al-Sharq Gas, Roger and Issam Gemayel, and Unigaz in Wata Amaret Chalhoub; and Hagop, Sarkis and Avedis Demerjian in Bourj Hammoud, occupy between 21,000 and 39,000 m² of seafront property, while the Real Estate Development Company was granted 60,000 m² in Halat.

Even these highly lucrative licenses did not quench the greed that is rampant in the country. Indeed, a total of 11 parties have overstepped their licensed spaces, and occupied an additional 110,882 m², bringing the total area controlled by licensed entities to more than 857,832 m² of the beachfront and reclaimed sea.

The ministry’s official report exposed glaring violations in this regard, most notably ATCL’s violation in Jounieh. There, the club’s owners, led by Fouad al-Khazen, head of the Contractors Syndicate, seized an additional 14,111 m², bringing the total area occupied by ATCL to 113,971 m² of public property.

The Nahr al-Kalb Tourist Center Company and owner of the Holiday Beach resort controlled by the late Jamil Iskandar, have similarly come to occupy 19,191 m² beyond its licensed area, bringing the total area under its control to 49,796 m².
Other examples include the motel group Tabarja Beach, which reclaimed an additional area of 12,984 m² only to develop on 19,844 m². In total, Tabarja Beach occupies an area of 31,483 m², without factoring in the illegal developments.

Six oil companies that enjoy protection from politicians have done the same thing, illegally seizing public property, in addition to a metal supplier in al-Metn, which is co-owned by former Minister Hagop Demerjian.

The ministry’s report indicates that 175 entities and persons occupy about 470,654 m² of maritime public property, without any legal permits to do so. The report also mentions that there are around 59 encroachers on a total publicly owned area of about 9,340 m², who do not have any properties adjacent to the areas in question.

Examples here include, but are not limited to, the Solemar beach resort owned by Suleiman Tannoury & Co., which was built on an area of 25,980 m² of public property; Kamal and Tannous Qordahi, cousins of former minister Jean-Louis Qordahi, who reclaimed 4,808 m² from the sea in Byblos; and the wife of former minister Michel Edde, Roula Elias Doumit, who reclaimed 1,260 m².

Other offenders include the Four Seasons resort, which reclaimed 10,820 m² from the sea in Mestita; Safra Marina, which reclaimed 7,935 m² from the sea in Safra; the Rabieh Hotel company in Safra as well, which reclaimed 14,227 m²; and Rashid Saleh al-Khazen (uncle of former MP Farid Haikal al-Khazen), who reclaimed 9,748 m² from the sea.

Many of the encroachers on public property are quite notable, including the owners of the Portemilio Resort (32,699 m²); Michel Nicola Zreik (11,840 m²); the Samaya Beach Resort (37,455 m²); and the Rimal Resort (43,289 m²). A staggering area of 54,295 m² has been illegally reclaimed off Property No. 154 in Dbayeh, but for some reason, the offender in question was not named.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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