Resurrection of eco-Gozo

The Gozo Channel

There is much more to a Gozo Channel bridge than its financial cost calculated in euros. There are also social and  environmental costs.

The proposal to link Malta and Gozo permanently has been around for ages. It involves connecting the islands such that there are no physical obstructions to proceed from one island to the other.

Gozo’s connectivity is a serious matter. Yet Gozo’s double insularity may well be its greatest asset which has been misunderstood and ill-used throughout the years.

The improvement of existing transport links  by introducing more efficient means or through alternative  means of transport is one way of looking at the channel crossing-challenge. Almost all  alternatives have been tried out in the past. Fast sea links linking Mġarr Gozo directly with a central location have been tried and subsequently discontinued. Alternatively, air links through the use of amphibious small planes  and helicopters too have been tried.

Will Gozo be better off if it is permanently linked to Malta?  I think that those insisting on the bridge or the tunnel genuinely believe that because they themselves may be better off everyone else will possibly be better off too.

Reality, unfortunately, is considerably different as with a physical link between Malta and Gozo there will be both winners and losers.   The process leading to a decision has to be both honest and transparent if it is to be of any help.

It has to be honest as it has to consider all the anticipated impacts of each proposal under consideration. Improved connectivity for industry to deliver goods produced in Gozo to Malta and elsewhere also signifies improved connectivity for working men and women living in Gozo and working in Malta. This could suggest that there may then be no more scope in locating industry in Gozo as the labourforce would easily access their working place. To date, providing work for Gozitans in Gozo has been an important social and political objective. If a physical link materialises this may no longer be so. Gozo will then be a locality just like any other in Malta.

Double insularity, if ditched by choice, will no longer be able to justify subsidies and incentives to lure industry to Gozo.  Double insularity will no longer be justification for EU regional development funds as it will no longer exist. What purpose then for the projected Gozo office in Brussels?

What about the impacts on the tourism industry?  Tourism policy relative to Gozo has always focused on Gozo as the destination with a difference. Gozo’s potential as an eco-tourism destination has been occassionally tapped. Diving is a well-developed niche market for eco-tourism in Gozo. Agri-tourism in Gozo has substantial potential, which is to date largely untapped.

These are issues whose potential could and should have been developed within the context of the eco-Gozo project. Unfortunately, this project has been hijacked by those who, after plagiarising the idea from  Alternattiva Demokratika used it as a slogan and ignored it as a vision.

The contribution to tourism of cultural activities such as opera performances  in Gozo is not to be underestimated. Such cultural activities contribute substantially to the viability of hotel operations in Gozo through the generation of revenue in the winter months. The introduction of a permanent link will undoubtedly increase the potential audiences for opera and other cultural activities in Gozo. However, with a bridge or tunnel in place, the use of hotels in Gozo will not be required by opera enthusiasts as they would be in a position to drive back home immediately. This has already been evident when Gozo Channel increased its trips through the introduction of late night trips.

In addition one has to consider environmental impacts. Impacts on protected marine areas in the Gozo Channel would be substantial. Add visual impacts in the case of the bridge or over two million cubic metres of excavated material in the case of the tunnel.

And what about the geological features of the Gozo Channel? As the area is riddled with geological faults, the first logical step is obviously a detailed geological examination of the area.  But what is obviously a logical first step seems not to have been given due weight.

Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta advocates a different line of action. A connectivity strategy for Gozo considering in detail all the different options is to be drawn up. After subjecting it to a Strategic Environment Assessement in line with the EU environmental legislation such a strategy should be subject to a public consultation, not just with the Gozitans but on a national level.

Taking into consideration all impacts would ensure that the decison taken is a sustainable one. Not in the interests of one specific sector but in the interests of all. Resurrecting (the real) eco-Gozo in the process would not be a bad idea.

Published in The Times of Malta – Saturday June 29, 2013 

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Recharging the aquifer

The Prime Minister has announced that in Gozo as part of the eco-Gozo project government will embark on a project of recharging the aquifer with purified sewage. The matter has been awaited for some time as it has been brought up during technical discussions/seminars on water and the depleted water table during the past months.

The experiment is very risky. I only hope that it has been well thought out. If it succeeds it may be a long term solution to our water problem. If it fails we will ruin what is left of the water table.

Studies made should be published.

I have my doubts on the whole matter. But then I am not in favour of playing around with nature.

AD asks MEPA Audit Officer to investigate Dwejra mauling

Following a request by AD MEPA has released a copy of the consent conditions for the use of Dwejra and other sites  in connection with “The Game of Thrones” teleserial shootout. AD is releasing the a copy of the Consent Conditions.

In the meantime Carmel Cacopardo AD spokesman on Sustainable Development and Local Government has written to the MEPA Audit Officer requesting that he investigates the whole matter.

In the written request Cacopardo on behalf of AD has stated that :
“It is inconceivable how MEPA could have issued any kind of permit for activities at Dwejra in view of the strict rules imposed by the  EU Habitats Directive which has been transposed into Maltese legislation.

In my opinion the Environment Protection Directorate of MEPA as the Competent Authority in terms of the Habitats Directive has permitted activities which it is duty bound to prevent from happening.

You are kindly requested to investigate the manner in which MEPA has handled this incident through both the actions and inactions of the Planning Directorate and the Environment Protection Directorate in MEPA.”Consent Conditions

X’Eco-Gozo hi din ?

proposed-site

Interessanti ħafna l-kumment li t-Times tal-lum tattribwixxi lill-Ministeru ghal Għawdex.

Alternattiva Demokratika permezz tal-kelliemi tagħha għal Għawdex Victor Galea qed tgħid li flok ma jiġi żviluppat wieħed minn l-aħħar spazji miftuħa fir-Rabat Għawdex (Pjazza l-Assedju 1561) ikun aħjar jekk il-Qorti f’Għawdex tmur f”dik li kienet il-fabbrika tal-MMU.  Sit li jista’ jiġi żviluppat mill-ġdid u jinkludi fih dak kollu li huwa meħtieġ.

Biex in-nies tinqeda aħjar AD qed tgħid ukoll li għandu jkun hemm shuttle service biex b’hekk jonqsu karozzi. Xi ħadd mill-Ministeru għal Għawdex  (li staħa juri ismu) qed jgħid li proposta bħal din iżżid it-traffiku.

B’dawn l-ideat nistgħu nifhmu iktar fejn ser iwassal eco-Gozo !

Mhux aħjar jgħidulna għaliex qed jiġi propost li wieħed minn l-aħħar spazji vojta fir-Rabat Għawdex qed jiġi propost illi jinbena? Ara ftit x’qal Victor Galea u x’jahsbu r-residenti !

 

http://gozonews.com/featured/safeguard-this-last-open-space-left-in-victoria/

Echo-Gozo : a race to be green

published on August 23, 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

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sunrise at Marsalforn

 

Since early 2007, when a PN commissioned survey indicated that 31 per cent of the electorate identified itself with tiny AD on environmental issues (compared with 32 per cent for the PN and 21 per cent for the MLP) it has been a race against time for the PN trying to be green. Trying to make up for lost time it took many a leaf out of the AD book: one being that relative to eco-Gozo.

For Gozo to achieve the status of an ecological island it needs to embark on the sustainable development path. This will be achieved only by matching walk to talk.

Last month the Minister for Gozo launched a public consultation intended to give flesh to the government’s eco-Gozo proposal. The minister is maybe unaware that the blue plan for eco-Gozo has already been drawn up by the stakeholders and approved by Cabinet after extensive consultation! It is titled “A Sustainable Development Strategy for the Maltese Islands”. On reading through it she will find clear directions which she should follow.

The concept of an ecological island is a vision that Gozo can be alive and kicking but not antagonistic to its ecology and life support systems. It must accept that humankind is part of an ecological system to which it is ethically bound to acquiesce. It does not mean returning to the Ġgantija era but rather that the manner the economy and social structures are organised and developed must be compatible with ecology.

The waste transfer station may be an important element in attaining this vision but it must be a holistic vision. Unfortunately this has not yet started coalescing.

Eco-Gozo could set a zero-waste target: nothing is thrown away but everything is reused or recycled. But waste is not just the solids which end up in Tal-Kus for transfer to the mainland, but also includes the liquids that transit through San Blas on their way to the waste water recycling plant and eventual discharge into the sea. An eco-Gozo would reuse all of its treated water, ensuring that its treatment is compatible with its intended use.

An eco-Gozo would also ensure that it errs on the side of caution in dealing with resources. Even at this late hour it can halt the Church in Gozo from developing a new cemetery which is playing havoc with the livelihood of Għajn Qasab farmers at Nadur. An eco-Gozo would undoubtedly realise that place names containing the semitic word “Għajn” (meaning spring) indicate a source of water flowing naturally and worthy of protection.

An eco-Gozo would strive to generate as much as is possible of its energy needs through renewable sources. This is achievable through the use of wind energy, supplemented by solar energy and energy generated through waste, including animal waste. But most of all it can be saved through energy efficiency measures in homes and other buildings.

An ecological island would ban the use of pesticides and lead its agriculture along the organic path. Its agricultural products would be healthier to consume and its water table would be less polluted. Farmers need the assistance of agricultural pharmacists to gradually decrease the pesticides in use until they can do without them altogether.

An ecological island would ensure that the ecological sites which form part of the EU Natura 2000, like Il-Qortin il-Kbir at Nadur, and those which are of great importance to the island, like Ta’ Ċenċ, are properly protected, managed and monitored. It would also ensure that declarations already made favouring the rape of Ħondoq ir-Rummien are withdrawn.

An eco-Gozo through efficient public transport would provide a reliable alternative to private cars, thereby encouraging their reduction in use. As a result it would also encourage the use of bicycles, which are surely suitable to cover the short distances between the various villages in Gozo. It would also realise that the construction industry must apply the brakes immediately. Gozo holds the national record on vacant properties: 47.66% of properties in Gozo were vacant in 2005 (9,762 out of 20,481 properties). An eco-Gozo faced with this fact would undoubtedly insist that the community can satisfy its residential needs from existing housing stock.

It takes much more than rhetoric to transform an echo to the real thing! It requires commitment and consistency. One cannot flirt with environmentalists while being consistently on the side of developers. Running with the hares does not make it possible to hunt with the hounds! In crystal clear language, a political party which seeks the support of opposing lobbies is not credible because it transmits the message of opportunism.

Throwing money at problems does not solve them. But consistency will, through the weeding out of contradictory stances and the adoption of a holistic approach. Green credentials of political parties are the result of a moral conviction, not of political convenience.

Addressing Our Environmental Deficit

published on Sunday 27 July 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

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 In his address to Parliament last May, the President had stated: “The government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development of the economy, of society and of the environment. When making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow.”

In December 2006, the National Sustainability Commission had drawn up the National Sustainable Development Strategy. Having been approved by Cabinet, it is appropriate that the pre-budget document just published ignites the debate on its implementation. The strategy is a blueprint for action representing a holistic perspective as to how this country should be administered. Its eventual handling will in due course give a clear indication of the government’s real views on sustainable development.

Malta’s energy policy is undoubtedly up for an upheaval. Due to the absence of strategic planning over the years, Malta is one of the few countries without any significant alternative energy generated. Other countries identified their vulnerability because of fuel oil dependency years ago and took action. Denmark has since built up its wind energy industry from scratch since the oil crises in the 1970s and is now a world leader. In 2005 Denmark generated 18.5 per cent of its electrical energy needs through wind.

The pre-budget document identifies near shore wind technology as the next step forward, contributing 95MW of wind energy or seven per cent of Malta’s projected electricity demand in 2010. The shortfall in meeting the EU target of having 10 per cent of electricity demand met by alternative energy is planned to be met with wind turbines at other exposed land sites and industrial estates, including those to be identified within the framework of the eco-Gozo project.

The pre-budget document focuses on macro-generation and does not give sufficient weight to micro-generation of energy, both with small wind turbines as well as with photovoltaic panels. It must be borne in mind that micro-generation if adequately motivated could add up to a substantial amount of energy generated through alternative technology. In addition to residential application (not flats or maisonettes!), schools and public buildings could be ideal sites for the micro-generation of energy. Moreover, one can consider fitting micro-turbines to the structures of the hundreds of disused windmills (water pumps) that pepper the countryside. These windmills were strategically located by our ancestors in wind-prone areas and are now an integral part of the Maltese countryside.

The pre-budget document rightly refers to energy generated through waste. It speaks of the generation of electricity using animal waste through biogas in a facility to be constructed in the north of the island. This is a long overdue initiative. However, I believe that it is badly conceived. The lessons that should have been learnt following the Sant’ Antnin debacle seem to have been forgotten.

The point at issue is whether one facility covering the whole island is sufficient or desirable. Would it be a good idea to transport animal manure across the whole island to a facility in the north?

One point resulting from the public debate relative to the Sant’ Antnin waste recycling plant was the applicability of the proximity principle. The required plant should be sited as close as possible to the source of the waste being processed. This had led to the Sant ‘Antnin projected operation itself being scaled down to deal with one third of the islands’ waste. The rest, it was stated, should be processed on other sites (possibly two) that have not yet been identified! These other sites should be used for the production of biogas too and they should be identified in a location as close as possible to those areas that have the largest number of animal farms in order to minimise the movement of animal waste. Knowing that a number of these farms are sited very close to each other should make matters easier for our waste management planners.

Bad planning brings out another sore point, which was not discussed in the pre-budget document: namely the management of our water resources. Groundwater (a ‘free’ source of freshwater) still accounts for 40 per cent of our potable water supply. Groundwater accounts for the greater part of the water used by agriculture, the construction sector, landscaping activities and various other industrial and commercial concerns, including some hotels which are supplied by bowsers. However, as a result of over-extraction, the quality of the water in the aquifer is becoming saltier by the day and will become useless within our lifetime.

Yet, illegal extraction of ground water continues unabated and the authority responsible for the sustainable use of this precious resource (the Malta Resources Authority) persists in not taking any concrete action. The recent increase in the surcharge on mains water will inevitably result in a rush to drill more boreholes and extract more groundwater, with the consequence that our aquifer will die an earlier death.

Within this context, the construction of wastewater treatment plants treating urban wastewater and discharging it directly into the sea assumes an alarming relevance. A country whose natural water resources are not sufficient for its use ought to manage its water resources in a much better way. It certainly ought not to permit the illegal extraction of water or the discharge of treated water into the sea. The siting of the wastewater treatment plants in Malta and Gozo is such that discharging treated water into the sea is a foregone conclusion. This decision, undoubtedly arrived at based on the original siting of the sewage outfalls, ignores the possibilities to reuse the treated water, either as a second-class source or (with additional treatment) as potable water. Other developed countries, notably Singapore, produce an ever-increasing percentage of their potable water in this manner. This issue is ignored in the pre-budget report.

All this could easily have been prevented with a proper water management planning strategy, which, instead of large-scale plants for wastewater treatment, could have identified a number of smaller sites along the sewer route on the islands for the construction of small packaged wastewater treatment plants. These would have provided ample treated effluent where and when required for agricultural use, landscaping and other uses not requiring water of potable quality – at little or no distribution costs. The widespread availability of this water would have substituted the need to extract groundwater and facilitated the required enforcement action on its illegal extraction.

The total costs would have been substantially less. By costs I do not just mean economic ones but also the ecological cost of losing a strategic resource (the aquifer), which loss will have to be borne by future generations.

As indicated in the public hearings carried out by Minister Tonio Fenech, the pre-budget document deals with the sustainability of localities, rightly linking this issue to the proposed reform of local councils. It refers to the need for localities to draw up a Local Sustainable Development Strategy. In environmental management, we normally consider this within the Local Agenda 21 process currently espoused by thousands of localities around the globe: think global act local.

The sustainable localities proposal is undoubtedly well intentioned, and if adequately planned and applied can lead to positive results. The difficulty that will arise is that of economies of scale. Our localities vary substantially in size: from the largest – Birkirkara, to the smallest – San Lawrenz in Gozo. I believe that the best manner to apply Local Agenda 21 in Malta would be on a regional level. It would entail the setting up an additional level of local government that could be made up of all the local councils in the region. One possibility for the identification of regions would be to follow the boundaries of the seven local plans. These regions could be the channel for drawing up a Local Agenda 21 in conformity with national policy and strategies, which allow ample room for adequate planning. The proposed Conference on Local Sustainable Development would be a good start.

The basic point at issue in all deliberations is to view the economy as a tool at the service of the eco-system rather than as master of all. Adopting sustainable development as a policy instrument is no easy task. It entails taking a holistic view of public administration and its consequences. It signifies that national policy and administrative action need to have a continuous long-term view.

Economic policy generally takes on board social policy. It now needs to ensure that it is subservient to the eco-system because at the end of the day the eco-system is the source of our being. It is only at this point that we will be in a position to settle our country’s accumulated environmental deficit!

Il-Gżira Ekoloġika u l-Ħniżrijiet fid-Dwejra

 

 

 

  

Għaddew sitt xhur minn meta l-MEPA waqqfet il-ħniżrijiet li kienu qed jinbnew fid-Dwejra f’Marzu li għadda, lejliet l-elezzjoni.

 

Wara sitt xhur kollox għadu hemm.

 

Bħal xejn ma hemmx min irid jagħtina x’nifhmu li dan hu parti mill-inizjattiva eko-Għawdex.

 

Meta jkun hemm dan id-dewmien kollu bil-fors ikun hemm min jaħseb ħażin. Li l-awtoritajiet iridu jnessu.

 

Ovvjament b’par idejn sodi fit-tmun dak li tistenna. Li kieku ried jieħu passi ħadhom. Wara kollox par idejn sodi. Jekk trid tara iktar ara hawn.