The Freeport: who pays the price for its economic success?

freeport.aerial viw


There are conflicting views on the acceptability or otherwise of the operations of the Freeport Terminal at Kalafrana, limits of Birżebbuġa. Throughout the years, governments have repeatedly emphasised that the Freeport’s contribution to Malta’s economic growth justifies practically anything. It has been implied that no sacrifice was to be spared for the Freeport to be transformed into an economic success.

As a result, the residential community of Birżebbuġa has been forced to sacrifice its quality of life.

Putting it briefly, it is the result of a lack of planning prior to the setting up of the Planning Authority. Land required for the Freeport was expropriated as far back as 1962, yet a considerable residential area was developed close by in the mid-1980s. No suitable buffer zones were created to shield the Birżebbuġa community from the operational impacts of the Freeport. Had this been done when the Freeport was not even on the drawing board, the present day problems would have been substantially less than what they actually are today.

A major issue is the noise generated, particularly during the quiet hours. Advisors to the Freeport Terminal recently submitted the results of a 12-month noise monitoring survey which was conducted over the period February 2014 to January 2015. The report lists a number of recommended remedial measures, both those required in the short term as well as those requiring a longer time frame to implement. The 15 short-term measures and the seven long-term ones are no guarantee that issues of acoustic pollution will disappear. Reductions in impacts are anticipated even though no projections have yet been made as to whether these will be cancelled out by impacts resulting from an increase in operations at the Freeport Terminal.

A major contributor to noise pollution originating from the Freeport Terminal during the quiet hours is the humming of the main and auxiliary engines of the berthed vessels in port. It is for this specific reason that the Environmental Monitoring Committee at the Freeport Terminal (which includes representation from the Birżebbuġa Local Council) has insisted right through that the shore to ship electrical supply to vessels berthed at the Freeport Terminal should be addressed.

The final report of the 12-month noise survey in fact points at the necessity of undertaking studies on the feasibility of this proposal. This is in line with the 8 May 2006 Recommendation of the Commission of the European Union on the promotion of shore-side electricity for use by ships at berth in community ports (Recommendation 2006/339/EC).

The EU recommendation is specifically intended to be considered by EU ports “where air quality limit values are exceeded or where public concern is expressed about high levels of noise nuisance, and especially in berths situated near residential areas” .

The above makes the point on a reduction of the quality of life of the residential community as a result of just one issue: noise. Then there are other issues amongst which light pollution (resulting from the floodlights at the terminal), which issue is being addressed, as well as the lack of availability of a substantial portion of Marsaxlokk Bay which cannot be adequately used for water sports. Add to this the large number of sports facilities which the British Services developed in the past in the Birżebbuġa Area, most of which have been gobbled up by the development of the Freeport and one gets a real feel as to what the Freeport has done to the quality of life of the Birżebbuġa community.

The development of a waterpolo pitch to replace that constructed in the 60s as well as the development of a football ground, both in the final stages of completion will reduce these impacts. But they will certainly not be sufficient for a community which had so many more sports facilities when it was so much smaller.

To be fair, the Freeport Terminal is not the only contributor to the reduction of the Birżebbuġa residents’ quality of life. Generally, it is the result of the gradual industrialisation of the Marsaxlokk Port over the last thirty years. The addition of the floating gas storage facility servicing the gas-fired Delimara Power Station in the coming weeks (or months) will further increase these problems.

The concerns of ordinary people have been ignored for far too long. Maybe this is why the Prime Minister commented earlier this week on the undesirability of any further expansion of the Freeport Terminal. Possibly he has, at this late hour, realised the extent of the mess which has been created.

The time to clean up is long overdue.

published  on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 July 2016