Ir-riskji tat-tanker tal-gass

Delimara floating gas stirage terminal

Ilna iktar minn tliet snin nargumentaw fuq il-ħażna tal-gass għall-power station ġdida li kienet issue ċentrali fl-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali.

Qabel l-elezzjoni l-ħażna kienet proposta li issir fuq l-art. Wara l-elezzjoni nbidlu l-pjani u saret il-proposta għall-ħażna fuq il-baħar.

Tajjeb li niftakru li fi tmiem is-snin 90 kien hemm diskussjonijiet dettaljati mat-Taljani tal-AGIP dwar il-kostruzzjoni ta’ pipeline tal-gass bejn Gela fi Sqallija u Marsaxlokk. Il-ftehim ma twettaqx għax kieku ilna 20 sena bil-gass u t-tanker ma kienx ikun hemm bżonnu.

Il-Gvern ħabbar xi xhur ilu li t-tanker tal-gass sorġut fil-Port ta’ Marsaxlokk ser ikun qiegħed hemm temporanjament sakemm ikunu iffinalizzati l-proċeduri kollha neċessarji biex isir il-pipeline tal-gass.

Meta kien hemm id-diskussjoni dwar il-power station il-ġdida quddiem il-Bord tal-MEPA xi sentejn ilu konna iddiskutejna f’ċerta dettall id-diffikultajiet li konna qed nantiċipaw dwar dan it-tanker tal-gass. Dawn essenzjalment kienu tnejn. L-ewwel l-impatt tal-maltemp fuq it-tanker innifsu kif ukoll fuq il-vapuri  fil-viċinanzi, prinċipalment dawk fil-Port  Ħieles imma ukoll l-impatt fuq is-sajjieda. It-tieni dwar il-miżuri ta’ sigurtá biex ikunu evitati inċidenti u f’kaz li dawn xorta jseħħu jkunu minimizzati l-konsegwenzi.

Fil-ġranet li ġejjin ser ikunu ippubblikati r-rapporti li saru u terġa tiftaħ beraħ id-diskussjoni.

Naħseb li kulħadd jieħu pjaċir kieku dawn il-problemi jissolvew.

L-istandards ta’ sigurtá fl-industrija tal-gass ifissru li dwar issues ta’ sigurtá u periklu, r-riskju possibilment ikun minimizzat kif kienu rrappurtaw l-esperti George Papadakis u Roberto Vaccari, kwazi tlett snin ilu. Hemm ukoll il-materja tas-sigurtá marittima li għad irridu naraw x’miżuri effettivi ser jittieħdu. Għax s’issa ftit huwa magħruf sakemm naraw ir-rapporti u naqrawhom sew.

Ir-riskji ħadd ma hu ser jeliminhom. Bla dubju hemm kull interess li dawn jonqsu l-iktar possibli. Imma kemm fil-fatt jonqsu  għad irridu naraw. Kif wara kollox irridu naraw min ser iħallas il-prezz. U l-prezz, tajjeb li niftakru, ma jitħallasx biss bl-euro.

ippubblikat fuq iNews : 17 t’Ottubru 2016

Fejn xejn m’hu xejn, m’hemmx konflitt ta’ interess

Timothy Gambin2                        Victor Axiaq

Bħalkom qrajt id-dikjarazzjonijiet tal-Professur Victor Axiak u tal-arkejologu marittimu Dr Timothy Gambin fejn qalu li minkejja li taw il-kontribut professjonali tagħhom fl-EIA tal-Power Station tal-gass f’Delimara huma qatt ma irrappurtaw lill-membri individwali tal-konsorzju.

Huma qalu li jirrappurtaw direttament lill-koordinatur tal-EIA u qatt lill-applikant.

Din il-kontroversja ma bdietx b’Axiaq u Gambin imma ilha sejra is-snin. Ir-responsabbiltajiet ta’ dawk li jħejju l-EIA, irrispettivament lil min jirrappurtaw, m’humiex kompatibbli mar-responsabbiltà li tkun membru tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jew tal-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi.

Ma jagħmilx sens illi fuq kaz jagħmlu r-rapport tal-EIA u ma jeħdux sehem fid-deċiżjoni imma fuq każi oħra jibqgħu hemm. Jeħtieġ li jifhmu illi l-funżjoni tal-membri ta’ dawn iż-żewġ awtoritajiet (Ippjanar u Ambjent/Riżorsi) hi waħda li jgħidulha kważi-ġudizzjarja. Meta terfa’ l-piz li tagħti d-deċiżjonijiet ma tagħżilx inti li f’xi każi tħejji r-rapporti u f’oħrajn tiddeċiedi. Qiesu avukat li għal xi kazi jirrappreżenta lill-klijenti tiegħu u għal oħrajn joqgħod fuq il-pultruna ta’ imħallef!

Ma jistgħux ikunu fuq iż-żewġ naħat, anke jekk jiddefinixxu lilhom infushom bħala “indipendenti”. Għax hekk jippretendu li huma. Indipendenti dejjem. Meta jħejju r-rapport jgħidu li huma indipendenti u meta jkunu fuq l-awtorità biex jiddeċiedu jippretendu li huma indipendenti ukoll. Indipendenti minn xiex?

Fil-fehma tiegħi u ta’ ħafna ambjentalisti oħra, l-indipendenza tal-membri individwali tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u tal-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi hi kompromessa kull darba li dawn jaċċettaw l-inkarigu li jħejju parti mir-rapport tal-EIA għal xi proġett partikolari.

Iridu jagħżlu. Jew membri indipendenti tal-awtorità inkella esperti indipendenti li jħejju r-rapporti. Imma dawn iridu jagħmlu it-tnejn, kif jgħidu l-Inġliżi: running with the hares and hunting with the hounds!

Kif jista’ membru tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jippretendi li waqt li hu membru ta’ din l-awtorità jibqa’ jipprattika ta’ konsulent dwar l-EIAs? Kif jista’ membru jippretendi li meta titla’ applikazzjoni dwar proġett għal deċiżjoni  quddiem l-Awtorità dwar persuna li kienet “klijent” tiegħu, qiesu ma ġara xejn.

F’pajjiż żgħir bħal tagħna m’huwiex aċċettabbli li l-membri tal-awtoritajiet ikunu fuq ix-żewġ naħat anke jekk f’każi differenti. Hemm konflitti kbar li m’humiex ser jissolvew bid-dikjarazzjonijiet li għalihom kollox sar sewwa.

Għax saru sewwa l-affarijiet biss, fejn xejn m’hu xejn.

Il-klijenti ta’ Victor Axiak u Timothy Gambin

Delimara EIA contents

 

Fl-artiklu tagħha tal-bieraħ il-Ħadd fuq is-Sunday Times intitolat Of hats and despicability, Claire Bonello identifikat problema oħra kbira konnessa mal-proċess tal-permessi tat-torrijiet tal-Imrieħel u Tas-Sliema (Townsquare).

Victor Axiak u Timothy Gambin fil-passat riċenti kellhom fost il-klijenti tagħhom lill-gruppi ta’ Gasan u ta’ Tumas li jiffurmaw parti mill-konsortium li twaqqaf għall-Power Station tal-Gass f’Delimara. Għalihom Victor Axiak u Timothy Gambin għamlu xogħol li kien jikkonsisti fi studji dwar impatti ambjentali ta’ dak il-proġett. Axiak dwar l-ekoloġija marittima u Gambin dwar l-arkejoloġija marittima. Ir-ritratt ta’ hawn fuq juri paġna mir-rapport tal-EIA dwar il-power station li taħdem bil-gass f’Delimara bl-ismijiet ta’ Axiak u Gambin u l-oqsma li rrappurtaw dwarhom.

Il-mistoqsija ċara hi jekk hux etiku li Axiak u Gambin jieħdu sehem f’laqgħat tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li fihom jagħtu l-opinjoni u jiddeċiedu dwar applikazzjonijiet tal-klijenti tagħhom.

Axiak ma attendiex għal uħud mil-laqgħat. Imma la hu u l-anqas Gambin ma ħassew il-ħtieġa li jgħidu li għandhom xi konflitt ta’ interess. Din x’serjetà hi?

L-imġieba korretta mhiex qegħda għall-politiċi biss iżda ukoll għal kull min hu involut fit-teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet.

Wara t-tejatrin ta’ Singapore …………….. lil hinn mill-partiġjaniżmu politiku

Delimara floating gas stirage terminal

 

Qed joqrob il-jum li fih it-tanker għall-ħażna tal-gass tal-power station jidħol u jitqiegħed fil-Port ta’ Marsaxlokk. Qed jgħidulna li dan ser ikun temporanju, jiġifieri għal ftit taż-żmien, sakemm jitlestew l-istudji dwar il-pipline tal-gass bejn Sqallija u Malta. Ovvjament trid iżżid ukoll iż-żmien biex il-pipeline jitqieghed f’qiegħ il-baħar inkluż ukoll il-perjodu tal-finanzjament, tendering u commissioning. Mhux xahar u tnejn.

Kemm ser ikun twil dan il-perjodu temporanju? Jiddependi mix-xogħol li sar diġà. Peró ma neħodiex bi kbira jekk dan iż-żmien ikun bejn 5 u 8 snin.

Sadanittant hemm il-ħtieġa li jkun ikkunsidrat il-permess operattiv tal-power station taħdem bil-gass f’Delimara. Dan il-permess ikun irid jissodisfa tlett tipi ta’ direttivi/regolamenti. Dawk dwar l-impjanti industrijali, dawk dwar l-impatti ambjentali (IPPC – Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control) u dawk dwar il-ħarsien minn inċidenti industrijali u l-impatti kemm ambjentali kif ukoll dawk ta’ protezzjoni ċivili (Direttivi ta’ Seveso).

Dan kollu jkun ikkunsidrat mill-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u Riżorsi flimkien ma’ awtoritajiet oħra, prinċipalment id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili u l-Awtorità għall-Ħarsien tas-Saħħa fuq il-Post tax-Xogħol. Imma ser ikun hemm ukoll bla dubju ħtieġa  ta’ eżami sewwa ta’ issues ta’ navigazzjoni minn Trasport Malta minħabba kemm it-tanker stazzjonarju (marbut mal-moll) fil-bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk kif ukoll minħabba li madwar 8 darbiet fis-sena ser jidħlu tankers bil-ħtiġijiet tal-gass skond kemm tkun qed tikkonsma gass il-Power Station ta’ Delimara.

Dawn huma kollha affarijiet li ġew diskussi f’ċerta dettall madwar sentejn ilu meta kien qed ikun diskuss il-permess ta’ żvilupp quddiem il-MEPA. Dakinnhar kien intqal li dawn kollha kienu affarijiet li riedu jkunu deċiżi iktar tard. Preċiżament issa hu dak il-mument, matul dawn il-ġimgħat u xhur li ġejjin.

Ser naraw matul il-ġimgħat li ġejjin dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ sigurtà huwa u jkun trasferit il-gass mit-tankers ġejjin u sejrin għal ġot-tanker stazzjonarju. Jekk hux veru li għal ċertu ħin il-port ikun jeħtieġlu illi jkun magħluq u kif dan (jekk minnu) ser jeffettwa l-operat tal Freeport u tas-sajjieda.

Irridu naraw kemm il-miżuri ta’ sigurtà fl-operazzjoni tal-power station huma f’posthom u xi drills ser ikunu meħtieġa (inkluż il-frekwenza tagħhom) biex ikun assigurat illi l-popolazzjoni residenzjali fil-viċinanzi tkun imħejjija għal kull eventwalità, anke jekk remota.

Wara l-inċidenti ta’ tmiem il-ġimgħa fil-ħruq tan-nar tal-festa ta’ Marsaxlokk bla dubju jridu jittieħdu prewkazzjonijiet ħafna iktar biex ikun assigurat li dawn it-tip ta’ inċidenti, jekk iseħħu, jinżammu l-bogħod kemm jista’ jkun mill-power station ta’ Delimara u l-ħażna tal-gass.

Dan kollu dwaru hemm l-obbligu li jkun hemm konsultazzjoni pubblika mar-residenti effettwati, dawk ta’ Marsaxlokk prinċipalment, imma probabbilment ukoll dawk ta’ Birżebbuġa.

L-operazzjoni tal-power station bil-gass bla dubju ser tnaqqas it-tniġġż tal-arja u b’mod ġenerali ittejjeb l-impatti ambjentali. Il-kostruzzjoni tal-pipe tal-gass eventwalment tnaqqas u tbiegħed il-perikli. Imma sa ma jasal dak il-jum, il-possibiltà tal-perikli, anke jekk remoti xorta qegħda wara l-bieb tagħna.

Lil hinn mill-partiġġjaniżmu politiku għandna l-obbligu li nassiguraw li l-affarijiet isiru sewwa. Biex dan isir għandna l-obbligu li neżaminaw kull pass li jsir. Għax b’hekk biss kulħadd joqgħod attent li jagħmel xogħolu sewwa.

ippubblikat fuq iNews : it-Tlieta 2 t’Awwissu 2016

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

L-istorbju madwarna

noise_pollution

Nhar il-Ġimgħa li għaddiet, kmieni fil-għodu, bosta residenti ta’ Marsaxlokk u Birżebbuġa qamu maħsudin bi ħsejjes li bdew jinstemgħu għall-ħabta tas-sitta ta’ fil-għodu, liema ħsejjes baqgħu għaddejjin għal ftit minuti. S’issa, wara li għaddew iktar minn tlett ijiem għad mhux magħruf x’kien il-kawża ta’ dawn il-ħsejjes ħlief li dawn oriġinaw mill-inħawi tal-power station ta’ Delimara.

Għar-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa din mhiex xi esperjenza ġdida għax f’Birżebbuġa  ilhom is-snin jisimgħu l-ħsejjes matul il-lejl: ħsejjes ġejjin mid-direzzjoni tal-Port Ħieles. Ħsejjes ikkawżati minn containers li jaħbtu jew jistabtu huma u jkunu qed jiġu mċaqalqa minn post għall-ieħor, inkella ħsejjes ikkawżati mill-generators tal-vapuri mal-mollijiet tal-Port Ħieles.

Ir-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa, kif ukoll dawk ta’ diversi lokalitajiet fil-madwar, kemm matul il-lejl kif ukoll matul il-jum iridu jissaportu ukoll il-ħsejjes tal-ajruplani nieżla għall-mitjar Internazzjonali ta’ Malta fil-Gudja. Dawn l-ajruplani ħafna drabi jkunu l-iktar qrib il-bini meta jkunu għaddejjin minn fuq iż-żona residenzjali  tal-Papa f’Birżebbuġa.

Ir-residenti tal-Isla (u dawk ta’ Bormla) ilhom jilmentaw ukoll mill-ħsejjes matul il-lejl ġejjin mit-Tarżna ta’ Palumbo. Ħsejjes ġejjin mill-grit blasting li jkun għaddej matul il-lejl fit-tarżna, inkella minn xogħol ta’ tiswija ta’ vapuri jew ta’ oil rigs. Ħsejjes li ma jħalluhomx jorqdu.

Pajjiżna hu żgħir fid-daqs. L-ispazju li naħdmu fih hu ristrett u allura kull ħidma li issir fih bil-fors li jkollha impatt fuq l-inħawi tal-madwar li huma viċin wisq ta’ xulxin.

Uħud qed jargumentaw li dawn l-ilmenti kollha kontra l-ħsejjes huma ta’ theddida għall-għixien tal-familji li jiddependu għall-ħobża ta’ kuljum tagħhom mit-Tarżna ta’ PaIumbo, inkella mill-Port Ħieles jew mill-mitjar Internazzjonali tal-Gudja.

Għall-bosta snin l-awtoritajiet tal-pajjiż (kif ukoll il-management ta’ dawn l-azjendi) ġew jaqgħu u jqumu mill-fatt li l-gwadann ekonomiku ta’ dawn l-azjendi qed isir għad-detriment tar-residenti madwarhom, li lejl u nhar iridu jissaportu impatti kbar fuq ħajjithom. Impatti li qed iħallu effett fuq saħħithom u l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħhom u tal-familji tagħhom.

Il-mistoqsija li teħtieġ tweġiba hi : kemm jagħmel sens li din il-ħidma issir daqshekk viċin ta’ żoni residenzjali? It-tweġiba, ħafna drabi tkun li din l-attività ekonomika ilha għaddejja s-snin u li m’hemm imkien iktar fejn issir. Allura, qiesu jridu jgħidu li m’hemm xejn x’tagħmel. Jgħidulna li Malta ajruport wieħed għandna u li l-faċilitajiet għat-tarznari jew għall-Port Ħieles ma hemm imkien iktar fejn isiru jekk mhux fejn ġja qegħdin. Sfortunatament dan hu kollu minnu bħalma hu minnu ukoll li dawn il-faċilitajiet ġew żviluppati meta ħadd ma kien jagħti kaz tal-impatti fuq ir-residenti.

Imma allura, nistaqsi, jekk ta’ qabilna ma kienux jagħtu kaz għandna nibqgħu aħna ukoll ma nagħtux kaz? Jekk il-Gvernijiet u l-awtoritajiet tal-bieraħ għalqu għajnejhom u widnejhom, dawn għandhom jibqgħu b’għajnejhom u widejhom magħluqa illum ukoll? L-ewwel pass jista’ jkun li dawn l-azjendi, matul il-lejl, iwaqqfu l-ħidma tagħhom li tikkawża l-istorbju.

Il-Gvern mhux ser jiċċaqalaq jekk in-nies tibqa’ lesta li tissaporti. Jekk in-nies ma titkellimx iktar l-ebda Gvern jew awtorità m’hi ser tiċċaqlaq.

Jiddependi minnek ukoll li qed tisma’ jew taqra dawn il-kelmtejn jekk jittieħdux passi. Mela jekk xbajt tissaporti qum minn hemm u tkellem. Jekk ma tagħmilx hekk, ikun inutli toqgħod tgorr, għax ser jibqgħu jgħadduk biż-żmien.

Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor

 laudato_si_    Cry of the Earth

 

This is the title of Leonardo Boff’s seminal work on the inextricable link between social justice and environmental degradation, originally published in 1995.  Earlier, during the 1972 UN Human Environment Conference in Stockholm, it was also the rallying cry of India’s Prime Minister  Indira Gandhi who, on behalf of the developing world, forcefully insisted that poverty was inextricably linked with environmental degradation.  In Stockholm Mrs Gandhi had emphasised that “the environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty  –  how can we speak to those who live in villages and slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and the air clean, when their own lives are contaminated at the source?”

This is also the underlying theme of the encyclical Laudato Sì published by Pope Francis last June. It is not just a seasonal Latin American flavour at Vatican City.  The earth’s tears are continuously manifested in different ways depending on the manner in which she is maltreated .

Environmental degradation has a considerable impact on the quality of life of  us all except, that is, for the quality of life of  the select few who pocket the profits by appropriating for themselves advantages (economic or otherwise) and lumping the negative impacts on the rest.

Environmental degradation is an instrument of social injustice. Consequently, enhancing the protection of the environment is also essential to restore social justice.

The water table is subject to continuous daylight robbery: over the years it has been depleted by both authorised and unauthorised water extraction.  What is left is contaminated as a result of the impact of fertilisers as well as surface water runoff from the animal husbandry industry. Theft and acute mismanagement  are the tools used in the creation of this injustice.

The Malta Freeport has been quite successful over the years in contributing to economic growth and job creation. The price for this has, however, been paid by Birżebbuġa residents – primarily through being subjected to continuous noise pollution on a 24/7 basis. Various residential units in the area closest to the Freeport Terminal are vacant and have been so for a considerable time. A noise report commissioned as a result of the conditions of the Terminal’s environmental permit will be concluded shortly. Hopefully, the implementation of its conclusions will start the reversal of the Freeport’s negative impacts on its neighbours.

The Freeport, together with various fuel storage outlets, the Delimara Power Station (including the floating gas storage facility which will soon be a permanent feature) as well as fish-farms have together definitely converted Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port. As a result of various incidents during 2015, spills in Marsaxlokk Bay signify that Pretty Bay risks losing its title permanently.   Fortunately, Birżebbuġa residents have been spared additional impact originating from minor ship and oil-rig repairs after they reacted vociferously to a decision by the MEPA Board to permit such work at the Freeport Terminal.

Public Transport has made minor improvements but nowhere near what is required. It is essential that Malta’s congested roads are mopped up of the excessive number of cars. Improving the road infrastructure will just make it easier for more cars to roam about in our roads, thereby increasing the scale of the problem.  The major consequences are a reduced ease of access and the deterioration air quality.

We will soon be in a position to assess the impact of two other major projects: a business hub at the Malta International Airport as well as a car-racing track with various ancillary facilities. The former will take up land at the airport carpark but will have considerable impact on the surrounding villages. The car-racing track may take up as much as 110 hectares of land outside the development zone and have a considerable impact on both nature and local residents in the areas close to where it will be developed.

The list of environmental impacts that we have to endure is endless.

I could also have included the impact of the Malta Drydocks and the consequent squeezing out of residents from the Three Cities as a result of its operations, primarily as a result of sandblasting, in the 1970s and 1980s. I could also have added the impact of the waste recycling plant at Marsaskala and the refusal of the authorities to finance studies on the impact of its operations on the health of residents, or else the impact of the operation of petrol stations close to and within various residential areas.

The size of the Maltese islands is limited. A number of the abovementioned  activities/developments  are essential, but others are not. However, it stands to reason that we should not bear the brunt of non-essential activities or developments. This should lead us to plan more carefully so that  the impacts of the activities that are essential are adequately addressed.

As evidenced by the above list, unfortunately over the years those taking decisions betrayed their responsibilities towards the common good, seeking, instead the interests of the select few thereby compounding social injustices.

This is Malta’s contribution to the accumulated tears of Mother Earth.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 January 2016

Land use planning : beyond rhetoric

Freeport 2015

 

There is a common thread running through a number of local land-use planning controversies: they are tending to either ignore or give secondary importance to environmental, social and/or cultural issues, focusing instead on economic considerations.

On this page I have discussed the impact of the Freeport Terminal on  Birżebbuġa a number of times. The basic problem with the Freeport is that its impact on the Birżebbuġa community were ignored for a very long time. In fact, an attempt to include a Social Impact Assessment as an integral part of the EIA which was carried out some years ago was given the cold shoulder by MEPA. The end result was that the decision-taking process was not adequately informed of the impact of the terminal extension, both those already apparent and those which were yet to come. In particular, no assessment was made of the disintegration of the sports infrastructure in the area that has  slowly been eaten up – primarily by the Freeport.

Most of this could have been avoided through an active engagement with the local community over the years at the various stages of the project’s planning and implementation. This is why plans for the Freeport’s expansion, as indicated by the Freeport Corporation’s CEO  earlier this week in an interview with The Business Observer, should be explained  immediately. Even at this early stage it must be ascertained that the situation for  Birżebbuġa residents will not deteriorate any further.

No one in his right mind would deny that, over the years, the Freeport has made a significant contribution to Malta’s economic growth. Few, however, realise that the price paid for this economic success has been the erosion of the quality of life of the Birżebbuġa community. This is certainly unacceptable but it will only get worse, once the gas storage tanker for the Delimara Power Station is parked within Marsaxlokk Bay in the coming months, very close to the Freeport terminal.

The same story is repeating itself in other areas. Consider, for example, the 38-floor tower proposed at Townsquare and the 40-floor tower proposed for the Fort Cambridge project, both on the Tignè Peninsula in Sliema. The Townsquare assessment process is reaching its conclusion, whilst the one in respect of Fort Cambridge is still in its initial stages. Yet both are linked to the same fundamental flaw: the lack of consideration of the cumulative impact of the development of the Tignè Peninsula – which includes the MIDI development as well as the individual small scale projects in the area.

The adoption of plans and policies which have made it possible for the authorities to consider the development of the Tignè Peninsula were not subject to a Strategic Impact Assessment and, as a result, the cumulative impact of implementing these plans and policies were not identified and assessed. The end result is that the proposed towers are justifiably considered as another disruptive and unwelcome intrusion by the Tignè and Qui-Si-Sana communities.

The developers and their advisors focus exclusively on the impacts which are generated by their proposals, with the authorities generally avoiding the consideration of the big picture at the earliest possible stage.

Preliminary indications from the proposed Gozo Tunnel and the Sadeen “educational” setup at Marsaskala/Cottonera are already pointing in the same direction. In both cases, the alternatives that were generally brushed aside are the very options that need to be examined in detail in order to ensure that the challenges that will be faced in 2016 and beyond have not been prejudiced by myopic considerations in 2015.

Planning failures have serious consequences on those of our local communities that have to bear the brunt of the decisions taken for a long period of time. These can be avoided if the authorities refocus their efforts and realise that the economy is a tool which has to be a servant, and certainly not a master.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 20 December 2015

Symbolic gestures do not compensate for planning failures

MFT.4 new cranes

Last Thursday, the MEPA Board finally decided to approve the Freeport Terminal’s application to install four cranes with 140-metre high jibs at the terminal. This decision was taken after the Board, in an anticipated about-turn, accepted a second declaration from Transport Malta as a recommendation for approval of the proposal.

In August, Transport Malta had pointed out that the installation of these new cranes was “not desirable” as, due to their height, they would “penetrate one of the established aeronautical protection surfaces by circa 18m”. However notwithstanding the conclusion that, for this reason, the Freeport’s proposal was not considered as undesirable, “given the importance of this facility to the economy”  Transport Malta gave its go-ahead to the Freeport’s proposal subject to a number of mitigation measures.

The Freeport facilities are too close to the residential area of Birżebbuġa and, over the years, MEPA has not given sufficient consideration to the impact that this facility has had – and is still having – on the quality of life of the residential community.

At no point during its consideration of the various planning applications submitted over the years has MEPA considered it necessary to consider the social impact of this economic activity. In fact, primarily as a result of the Freeport’s operations, most of the sport facilities in the area, introduced by the British services over the years, have disappeared. It is only recently that the extensive damage to the waterpolo pitch was made good,  through the reconstruction of a new waterpolo pitch. The activities of the Sailing Club, which  borders the terminal, have also been badly affected as a result of the increase in the number of ships making use of the terminal. The Birżebbuġa Sailing Club, ironically sponsored by the Freeport itself, is the only one of its kind in Malta’s political south.

Last Thursday, MEPA, despite opposition from the Freeport Terminal management, decided on compensating the Birżebbuġa community through the creation of an ad hoc fund to the amount of €955,000 to fund environmental improvement projects in the Birżebbuġa area. It is the second time in six years that MEPA has considered it necessary to take such a symbolic decision. The first time was in 2009, when a fund of €741,820 was created for the same purpose. That decision was, however, quashed by the Lawrence Gonzi-led Cabinet as a result of the planning appeal process, even though the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal  in an 11-page recommendation, explained why the original decision was to be confirmed.

The decision to create this latest ad hoc fund is symbolic in that it recognises the Freeport’s negative impact on the local community. It will not, however, have any substantial effect. It is just a symbolic recognition of the fact that the contribution of the Freeport Terminal to Malta’s economic growth is being achieved at the expense of the quality of life of Birżebbuġa residents.

It  is known that a number of residential properties in the area closest to the terminal have been vacant for a considerable time, as the noise generated through its operation is at times unbearable, irrespective of the time of day.

This is certainly a major failure of land-use planning in Malta, a failure that will be compounded in the coming months when other major planning decisions –  such as the gas storage facilities for the Delimara Power Station just across the bay from the Freeport Terminal – come into operation.

The transformation of Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port is now practically complete and, gradually, a substantial number of residents will be squeezed out.  It is the same process as that experienced by the Three Cities at Cottonera as a result of the activities of Malta Drydocks. The results can be seen by all.  Soon, the shedding of crocodile tears will commence and then the rehabilitation of Marsaxlokk Bay may possibly be planned.

originally published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 13 December 2015

Il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex

Gozo_tunnel_route_alignment_options

 

Ma nafx jekk il-Ministru tal-Finanzi kienx jaf x’inhu jgħid meta qal li l-feasibility study “ikkummissjonat minn Transport Malta u l-Gozo Business Chamber” dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex kien lest. Imbagħad fis-sentenza ta’ wara jgħidilna li l-pass li jmiss issa huwa l-istudju tekniku u ġeoloġiku dwar il-mina.

Il-mistoqsija toħroġ waħedha: kif tista’ tagħmel feasibility study sura, jiġifieri studju dwar jekk jaqbilx li jsir il-proġett, meta għadek ma lestejtx l-iktar studju importanti: dak ġeoloġiku.

Dan ilu żmien jingħad minn kull min jaf l-affarijiet.

Jiena ktibt dwar dan kważi ħames snin ilu.

Iktar importanti milli ktibt jien, illum tkellem mat-Times il-ġeoloġista Peter Gatt. Tkellem ukoll mat-Times nhar it-3 ta’ Frar 2011.

Dr Peter Gatt jispjega fit-Times tal-lum għaliex qabel ma jsir l-istudju ġeoloġiku ma tista’ tikkonkludi xejn. Dan l-istudju hu “a vital first step”. Dan minħabba li l-istudju ġeoloġiku, jekk isir sewwa, jidentifika l-problemi ġeoloġiċi fuq ir-rotta li tkun ser titħaffer. Min-naħa l-oħra, jispjega Dr Gatt, jekk l-istudju ma jsirx, jew ma jsirx sewwa l-ispejjes tal-proġett jimmoltiplikaw. Kif ġara, jgħidilna Dr Gatt, fil-mina bejn Delimara u l-Marsa [bejn iż-żewġ power stations] li swiet id-doppju ta’ dak ippjanat minħabba li, billi ma kienx hemm informazzjoni ġeoloġika adegwata f’idejn min fassal il-proġett, kien hemm kollass tal-blat f’diversi partijiet tal-mina.

Dr Gatt isemmi l-eżempju tal-istudju ġeoloġiku li sar bi preparazzjoni għaċ-Channel Tunnel bejn l-Ingilterra u Franza. Dan l-istudju dam 50 sena biex sar u minkejja dan, l-ispiża taċ-Channel Tunnel xorta varjat bi 80% mill-istima oriġinali.

Meta wieħed iqis dan kollu ma nafx x’feasibility study sar!

Qalulna ukoll (mhux fil-baġit) li l-mina ser tiġi tiswa madwar €250 miljun. Meta tqis l-ispejjes li jistgħu jkunu meħtieġa minħabba l-kundizzjonijiet ġeoloġiċi taħt il-Fliegu bejn Malta u Għawdex, naħseb li din l-istima hi baxxa ħafna. Fil-fatt jiena fl-artiklu tiegħi tal-2011 kont għidt li probabbilment li l-ispiża tkun bejn €1 biljun u €1.5 biljun. Dan kont ibbażajtu fuq l-ispiża stmata għall-mina bejn il-gżira Daniża ta’ Lolland u l-gżira Ġermaniża ta’ Fehmarn li kienet qed tkun diskussa f’dak iż-żmien. Għalkemm dawn huma stimi imma xorta hemm diskrepanza kbira li mhiex ġustfikata.

Hemm dawn il-problemi kollha u għandna ma bdejniex nitkellmu dwar impatti ambjentali, li minnhom hemm bosta.

Il-mina, biex issir, ser tiġġenera kwantità kbira ta’ blat imqatta. Dan ivarja skond id-diżinn u jista’ jammonta sa żewġ miljun metri kubi ta’ blat. Hemm ukoll is-siti Natura 2000 li qegħdin viċin ħafna taż-żona fejn ser tiżbokka l-mina fl-inħawi taċ-Ċumnija limiti tal-Mellieħa.

Imma l-feasibility study lest, qalilna l-Ministru!