Haifa Chemicals to Shut Down Haifa Operations; 400 to Be Fired

Haifa Chemicals’ ammonia tank. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

Haifa Chemicals has made a final decision to shut down its operations in Haifa, the company announced Tuesday. Letters of dismissal will be sent out to the facility’s 400 workers this week. Sources in the company told Channel Ten that “there really is no choice, as the facility is in great financial distress, and we have no choice but to shut it down.”

The decision came after several meetings between government officials and company executives, in the wake of an announcement by owner James Trump earlier in August that the company could not handle the financial burden imposed on it by the High Court to drain the storage vats of ammonia located in Haifa Bay without suitable alternatives – which the government still, after years of discussion, has still not provided or even planned for.

“If the government is unable or unwilling to fulfill its role as a regulator and provide the means by which Israel’s fertilizer and other ammonia-dependent industries can survive, we certainly are unable to do so,” Trump wrote to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu earlier in August.

The issue of where to store the ammonia has been a hot topic for years. In 2013 the Environment Ministry approved a plan to move it to a less-populated area of the Negev, because of fears that a leak or other incident could endanger the health and lives of the 800,000 residents of the region. The matter has been a cause célebré for environmental groups who have organized many petitions, protests and marches over the years to move the facility.

Just days ago the government approved a plan to import and store ammonia in small boats that would be in Haifa Bay, delivering ammonia to shore as needed. However, Haifa Port officials said that the plan was unworkable, as they did not have the facilities for that kind of delivery. Also opposed to the plan was Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, who angrily walked out on a meeting of the Security Cabinet where the plan was approved.

The High Court has ordered the Haifa Bay storage facilities drained by September 18th. In its decision, the court criticized Haifa Chemicals’ foot-dragging on moving the ammonia to an alternative facility. “Had they acted sooner they could have found a way to safely store the ammonia by now. We are hopeful that with this decision the danger that hovers over residents of Haifa will now be removed.”

In a statement, the Haifa municipality said that it “congratulated the court for rejecting the position of the state, which by some circumstance was the same as that of Haifa Chemicals, and has ordered that the ammonia vats be emptied.”

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