ROUMIEH, Lebanon: Preparations are underway for an 18-hole golf course and a five-star hotel in the hilltop village of Roumieh just outside of Beirut. But local residents say the development will not benefit the local community and fear its environmental impact.
Roumieh residents say they don’t want to see their picturesque village meet the same fate as other towns within commuting distance of Beirut, which, they say, have been over-developed to the point that they have lost their character. The golf course and accompanying buildings would be built over part of the nearby pine forest that was previously used as a training ground for the Lebanese Army.
According to an environmental impact study carried out by the municipality, the project requires the removal of between 30,000-40,000 trees and will span approximately one square kilometer.
“God knows how many trees they will be tearing down,” said Zeina Keitaneh, who works at a local shop.
She added, however, that while she was concerned about the loss of the forest, the golf course could be good for business and give a much-needed boost to the local economy.
Mayor Louis Abi Habib said that the municipality could not prevent construction on privately owned land, pointing out that a golf course was preferable to residential or commercial complexes.
“The land is private property, so we cannot prevent it from being sold and built on,” Abi Habib told The Daily Star. “In that sense, it is better having a green golf course than a lot of buildings and residential homes.”
“It is good for the development of Roumieh,” the mayor added.
Regarding residents’ concerns over the loss of the wooded area, Abi Habib said only 10 percent of the forest would be cut down, and that the municipality was keen to preserve green spaces and wildlife habitats.
“The trees are not fruit-bearing ones, nor are they old – they are pine trees,” which are common and grow quickly, he said.
Abi-Habib also pointed out that military training had already damaged the area, and that the company planning to build the golf course had promised to replace every tree cut down with six plants.
The mayor did not have a timeline for construction, but another source with knowledge of the issue who requested to remain anonymous said the Environment Ministry had yet to sign off on the project, which could delay it.
Other residents were not as concerned with the environmental impact as they were with the choice of a golf course that would cater to tourists and rich out-of-towners as opposed to the local community.
“I think they should have built something other than a golf course, maybe a tennis or basketball court,” said Bechara Habib, a local resident.
“A golf course will not benefit everyone since it is a private establishment and expensive.”
Attempts to reach Khatib&Alami, the company in charge of the development, were unsuccessful.