Mushrooming of the eco-island

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by Carmel Cacopardo

published on Saturday September 5, 2009

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Assessment of the environmental impacts of projects commenced in the United States of America in the wake of the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. It was taken up by the World Bank in the early 1970s, with the European Union following in the early 1980s.

Environmental impact assessments carried out for statutory purposes ought to be the instrument through which the community gauges whether and to what extent negative impacts of projects can be mitigated.

From this basic premise it ought to be clear that the loyalty of those carrying out the environmental assessment of projects ought to be towards the community, which, through the relevant authorities, considers whether to authorise a particular development. In a small jurisdiction as Malta this is not always the way matters proceed, as can be illustrated through countless examples.

A case in point is the new Nadur cemetery at Għajn Qasab, which was the subject of a hydrological study. The submitted study did not identify that the area to be excavated served as the route through which underground water was filtered naturally. In addition to natural filtering, the area to be excavated served as a natural underground water store collecting the rainwater and releasing it slowly through the sides of the hill throughout all the months of the year.

This continuous supply of water attracted farmers to Għajn Qasab over the last 200 years and more since the time when these islands were administered by the Knights. As a result, over the years they have developed one of the best citrus groves on the islands.

The geologist who submitted the Nadur hydrological report was selected by the applicant (the Nadur parish priest), who paid him for his services. His appointment was accepted by Mepa, which considered him suitable for carrying out the hydrological study.

Partly on the basis of this hydrological report, a permit was issued by Mepa and the area has now been excavated. As a result, the ruin of the Għajn Qasab farmers’ community has commenced.

Their fields were supplied with natural flowing water all the year round until the Nadur parish priest commenced his project. Now that the excavation has been carried out, water supply is murky, not percolating through the excavated geological strata. The farmers have a substantially reduced supply of natural water in the dry months. Their agricultural output will, as a result, be substantially reduced.

The obvious conclusion is that the Church in Gozo is contributing towards the ecological ruin of Gozo.

Another project in Gozo is now making the headlines. It is a mushroom factory proposed to be sited very close to the Għarb residential area.

Once the development of dwellings has been permitted by the authorities, it stands to reason that they should not allow, within a reasonable distance, any other development that conflicts with the residential character of the area.

But will they?

The application pending before Mepa is to relocate an existing mushroom factory from Xewkija to Ta’ Dbieġi (application PA5707/07).

The site within the boundaries of Kerċem and having an area of 14,000 square metres lies just a few metres from the residences in Triq Franġisk Portelli, Għarb, and 220 metres away from the five-star Kempinski Hotel at San Lawrenz!

Perusal of the project description statement (PDS) explains the background to the proposed development. In brief, the owner of the factory needs to be more competitive. As a result, he has been advised to move to a purposely-designed factory.

In addition, he has been advised that, rather than importing quantities of animal manure from Holland, Belgium and Italy to be used in the substrate for the production of his mushrooms, he should make use of chicken manure available locally, to the tune of 22,000 kilograms per week.

This manure has to be transported from the chicken farms to the proposed mushroom factory site at Għarb.

The Kempinski Hotel, as well as the Ta’ Dbieġi crafts village, will, in a spirit of solidarity, also have a fair share of the available odours as they lie on or are very close to the access path.

We are informed in the PDS that by making use of this manure the developer of the project, in addition to being more competitive, would in effect be recycling animal waste and in addition would be lending a helping hand in Malta’s complying to the Nitrate Directive of the EU.

While this may be correct it should not lead to the adoption of the Għarb site but rather to the selection of a site very close to existing chicken farms. As a number of such farms are on the other side of Gozo one wonders as to the criteria used in the site selection exercise! But then, maybe, it is the intention of the project to share the odours along the route.

What’s next from the eco island?