Tunnel vision

cart-horse

 

Gozo’s connectivity issues are considered as a problem when in reality they define Gozo and determine its distinct features. Unfortunately, in this respect both the government and the opposition have developed a tunnel vision, that is they tend to focus on just one view and ignore everything else.

The latest twist in the current debate is the declaration by the Finance Minister in his budget statement earlier this month that the feasibility study commissioned by Transport Malta, together with the Gozo Business Chamber has been concluded positively  and that the next step would be  the commissioning of a technical and geological study relative to the projected tunnel across the Gozo Channel.

Transport Malta, prodded by the Gozo Business Chamber, seems to be bent on putting the cart before the horse as it is inconceivable how a feasibility study could be concluded without first having identified all the geological issues and examined them in detail.  Knowing that the Gozo Channel contains a number of geological faults, including active ones, leads to the logical preliminary conclusion that geological studies of the area proposed to be tunnelled could have a substantial bearing on the technical parameters of the project. This would include the specific  route to be selected, the actual works to be carried out and the costings. The geological studies could also lead to a technical recommendation to select an alternative solution other than boring a tunnel below the seabed .

When the PN-led government placed the issue on the national agenda, former Minister Chris Said gave his guesstimate that the tunnel would cost in the region of €150 million. We have recently been informed that this guesstimate has increased substantially to between €250 and €300 million.

These guesstimates are on the low side, because when the geological issues have been examined the estimate could well shoot up to over €1 billion- this being around 4 times what has been taken into consideration in the so-called “feasibility study”.

These type of project very rarely follow estimated costs. The tunnel linking the Marsa and Delimara powers stations in Malta, for example, overshot its projected costs by around 100% due to the absence of adequate geological information. As a result, parts of the  tunnel caved in during works, necessitating substantial additional work, including redirecting parts of it. On the other hand,  expenditure on the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent to Coquelles near Calais exceeded the projected estimates by around 80% notwithstanding the availability of detailed geological studies.

Last week, one of the Sunday newspapers referred to a survey carried out by the Gozo Tourism Association which indicates that 64% of tourism operators in Gozo are adamantly against the proposed tunnel because the direct result of this would be to render Gozo as an appendage of Malta. Gozo would be transformed into a one- day destination, just like most of the other tourism attractions spread over the Maltese islands.

Gozitan tourism operators have a very valid point, as the direct result of this tunnel vision is that Gozo would be transformed from an island into a remote village. Most hotels in Gozo as well as the flats and farmhouses available to let, could then require the identification of another use.

This matter has not yet been examined and yet it is fundamental to the decision-making process and should have been the first step in the whole exercise.

All this muddle and I have not yet commenced discussing the environmental impacts of the proposed tunnel!

The tunnel will generate large quantities of rock which require disposal. The precise amount would depend on the route to be followed (and consequently the length of the tunnel) as well as the selected design (the cross sectional area) and could be anything between one and two million cubic metres of fragmented rock.

In addition, the proposed point of entry of the tunnel at Iċ-Ċumnija on the outskirts of Mellieħa, would most probably be accessed through a new road network in the area immediately behind the Għadira Nature Reserve and bird sanctuary. This means that all the environmental issues which were discussed when the proposed TEN-T network was being debated will once more be of relevance.

There are many other ways through which Gozo’s connectivity issues can be addressed and there are certainly more cost effective ways than the proposed tunnel. The costs to be considered are not just financial: they include social and environmental costs, which should be considered on the drawing board and not as an afterthought.

This is the problem with the tunnel vision – you just have one view, excluding all the others.

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TEN-T : The Għadira Nodes

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published Saturday 27 December 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

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Two important points have to be borne in mind while searching for a solution to upgrade the Ten-T (Trans-European Transport Network) road link at Ghadira Bay, Mellieha.

Firstly, all identified solutions will have an environmental impact. Secondly, in order that the public discussion be fruitful all information must be freely available.

The stakeholders are not just NGOs and specific economic operators. The whole community is the stakeholder. Stakeholders require information not just from the perceived interested parties but more so from the public authorities that are vested with authority to defend the community’s interests.

A number of reports have been made public. Some have been quoted selectively. Others are still under wraps.

BCEOM (French engineering consultants), in its 2004 report entitled Feasibility And Environmental Impact Studies For Transport Infrastructure Projects In Malta – Final Feasibility Study Report and AIS Environmental Limited, in its 2005 report entitled Proposed Review Of Ghadira Road Options, identify the upgrading of the existing road along the beach as the preferred option.[vide also 1 and 2]

Since then a number of proposals have been publicised. These revolve around two possibilities: the retention of the existing road with modifications or the construction of an alternative road to the south of the Nature Reserve and the Danish Village.

Preliminary appraisal of environmental impacts has been drawn up and on its basis the authorities have issued opinions that have not yet been made public. These indicate the detailed studies that have yet to be carried out in order to arrive at a definite decision.

In particular, it is to be noted that the AIS report dated November 2005 states (pages 2 and 3) that BCEOM had rejected the tunnel design beyond the Danish Village, which would have reclassified the beach front route as a local road.

These proposals were rejected by BCEOM on the basis of “excessive and unpredictable costs”. In addition, the AIS report emphasises that “Mepa had rejected the tunnel options on environmental grounds because the area in question is classified as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC)”.

The AIS report further states that subsequent to the above-indicated Mepa rejection, ADT reassessed the situation and proposed three options, two focusing on the existing road and the third being a new road incorporating a tunnel and bridge through the garigue (an SAC) south of the Danish Village, which, like the SAC-protected Nature Reserve, has been officially approved by the EU and forms part of Natura 2000.

It is within this context that Mepa has requested a “holistic preliminary assessment of the impacts arising from the various options that ADT is now considering”. Mepa has requested a number of studies related to beach dynamics, ecology, agriculture, geology, geomorphology and hydrology, archaeology and others. These studies were requested way back in 2005 and none has to date seen the light of day, notwithstanding that everyone seems to be in a hurry! These studies, if properly carried out, are of fundamental importance in determining the manner in which the Ghadira Ten-T link is to proceed, if at all!

Various statements have been made in the past weeks. The most conspicuous were those related to the sandy beach. It is by now clear that these have originated (without scientific justification) from a consultant commissioned by one of the economic operators in Ghadira Bay and were intended to reinforce his proposal for a beach concession as a result of a possible re-routing of the Ghadira road.

Within this context it was highly unethical for the Ministry of Transport to invite the said consultant to sit alongside the ministry’s officials in a recent meeting with NGOs and the press. The ministry’s subsequent declaration that it would oppose proposals for beach concessions in the area can only be interpreted as an attempt to correct its ethical short-sightedness!

A further important statement was made last week by nature itself. The sea level temporarily rose to the road level, thereby reinforcing arguments already brought forward that the existing road during the winter months is doubling up as a coastal defence to the Nature Reserve, which, being sited on former salt pans is partly below sea-level.

At this point in the debate, matters are slightly less nebulous than they were in the beginning. The declaration by the Minister for the Environment that all the required studies will be carried out is welcome.

However, such a declaration risks being viewed as a cheap attempt at damage control unless an explanation is forthcoming as to why these studies have not yet been finalised notwithstanding that they were requested by Mepa way back in 2005!

It is clear that, until recently, some thought that these studies could be dispensed with only to realise at the 11th hour that the environmental lobby is vigilant and will keep insisting that the government, through its various agencies, should shoulder its responsibilities!

Ghadira Report Released by AD

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Following a formal request which I made to MEPA on behalf of AD in terms of the Aarhus Convention (access to environmental information) MEPA has this morning released the report entitled  “Proposed Review of Ghadira Road Options Nodes NA3-NA4”. This was  produced in 2005 by AIS and commissioned by the Transport Authority.

This report is being released by AD in order that the public be better informed. A transparent government ould have released it around three years ago !

Foresta 2000

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Din il-pjanta ta’ Foresta 2000 ippubblikata mill-Birdlife u Din l-Art Helwa turi kif it-triq tal-Għadira ser tgħaddi eżatt minn ġo nofs il-proġett Forest 2000.

Jiġifieri l-Ministeru ma jafx x’inhu jgħid meta jinsisti li l-proġett tat-triq fl-Għadira mhuwiex ser jeffettwa Foresta 2000.

Tiftakru kemm rajna pampaluni jippużaw u jħawwlu siġar f’Forest 2000 matul ix-xhur li għaddew ? Kemm kien hemm min tkaża meta seħħ każ ta’ vandaliżmu li bħala riżultat tiegħu inqerdu s-siġar kollha. Issa il-Gvern qed jipproponi li jgħaddi t-triq !

Hemm min jaf x’inhu jagħmel ?

It-Triq Tal-Għadira

ghadira-nature-reserve

 

Il-Gvern permezz tal-Ministru tat-Trasport Austin Gatt ħabbar il-ħsiebijiet tiegħu dwar il-kostruzzjoni ta’ triq ġdida fl-Għadira wara r-riżerva naturali kif ukoll wara l-villaġġ tad-Daniżi.

 

Intqal li saret konsultazzjoni mal-Birdlife u mal-Management tal-villaġġ Daniż. Tajjeb li saret konsultazzjoni magħhom, imma mal-pubbliku f’Malta s’issa għadha ma saret l-ebda konsultazzjoni. L-ambjent f’Malta la hu tal-Birdlife u l-anqas tal-Management tal-villaġġ Daniż iżda tal-poplu Malti.

 

Li kieku ma tkellmux il-gazzetti ħadd ma kien ikun jaf x’inhu għaddej.

 

 

It-triq kif proposta mill-Gvern ma tistax issir għax tmur kontra l-provedimenti tal-Habitats Directive tal-Unjoni Ewropea. Taħt il-provedimenti ta’ din id-direttiva ir-riżerva naturali tal-Għadira hi diġa dikjarata Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Fl-inħawi tal-SAC ma jista’ jsir xejn li jista’ jkollu impatt fuq l-area protetta. Triq ewlenija bħal dik proposta bil-movimenti u d-dwal li jkollha ser teffettwa l-funzjoni tal-SAC.

 

L-Unjoni Ewropea ma tagħtix fondi għal proġetti li jeffettwaw SACs. Jiġifieri jekk id-Direttorat tal-Ambjent fi ħdan il-MEPA jagħmel dmiru u jipproteġi r-riżerva tal-Għadira t-triq ma ssirx. Jekk min-naħa l-oħra  d-Direttorat tal-Ambjent jagħlaq għajnejh u ma jagħmel xejn, jinstab mod kif l-Unjoni Ewropea tkun infurmata dwar x’qiegħed jiġri f’dan il-pajjiż li fih “bil-kliem” l-ambjent jingħata importanza kbira.

 

 

Jekk tintmiss it-triq eżistenti tal-Għadira, fi ġranet ta’ maltemp, meta jaħkem il-Grigal, dak kollu li hemm fir-riżerva jitkaxkar. Hi it-triq eżistenti li qed tipproteġi r-riżerva.

 

Hemm imbagħad l-effett fuq il-villaġġ tad-Daniżi. Dan inbena bħala faċilita turistika għall-kwiet, f’atmosfera rurali. Il-bini ta’ triq prinċipali kważi ħajt ma ħajt mal-villaġġ ser teqred l-identita ta’ dan il-villaġġ.

 

Hemm ħafna affarijiet oħra x’jingħadu dwar din it-triq pero’ naħseb li dan t’hawn fuq hu l-iktar importanti għalissa.