Smelling the coffee

 

extract MT freeport crane clearancesmell the coffee

Last Thursday was one of those very rare occasions when the MEPA Board, considering two different development applications submitted by the Freeport Terminal operator, decided on the one which will be beneficial to Birżebbuġa residents.

I must confess that I was surprised at this, as I am accustomed to a MEPA which thinks and acts differently. I do not know whether Thursday’s sitting was a one-off or else whether it signals that the Authority has at last realised that the quality of life of our communities should be the real focus of its endeavours. Only time will tell.

The first application was to renew an approved permit in connection with  dredging work aimed at enabling larger ships to make use of the West Quay of Terminal 1. The second application proposed the installation of larger cranes with 140-metre jibs. The cranes currently in use have 110-metre jibs.

After repeated representations from the Birżebbuġa local council, as well as Birżebbuġa residents, MEPA-weeks before Thursday’s meeting- informed the Freeport Terminal Operator that siting these large cranes along the West Quay of Terminal 1 was unacceptable due to their impact on the quality of life of  residents, a number of whom live just across the road from the Freeport Terminal boundary wall.

The management of the Freeport Terminal complied with MEPA’s instructions to relocate the 140-metre jib cranes. This, however, begged the further question as to whether or not the pending dredging work was, in fact, now required.

The MEPA Board unanimously accepted the submission from the local council that, in view of the relocation of the cranes, there was no further need for the dredging permit and this was therefore not renewed.

Regarding the second application, seeking authorisation to replace a number of existing cranes with 110-metre jibs with more modern models having 140-jibs, the local council sought an explanation as to why a proposal for the siting of a power station close by – at il-Mara Bengħajsa (with an 80-metre high chimney) in the late 1980s was shot down by the Civil Aviation authorities, who are now accepting the installation of 140-metre high jibs.

During the discussion, it transpired that the clearance issued by Transport Malta was ambiguous. In fact, Transport Malta stated that the 140-metre jib cranes “will penetrate one of the established aeronautical protection surfaces by circa 18m and although this situation is not desirable, given the importance of this facility to the economy, on exceptional basis and without prejudice to any future request it is being considered acceptable subject to the following mitigations ………………”

You have read correctly. The 140-metre jib cranes are “not desirable” yet they are “being considered acceptable” by Transport Malta due to the importance of the Freeport to the economy.

The MEPA Chairman is insisting that Transport Malta owes us an explanation. He could have added that safety should not be compromised for any reason, including “economic importance”.

In a further twist in the whole saga, the Freeport Terminal management proceeded with the installation of the new cranes without waiting for a MEPA decision on the development permit requested.

Public opinion has been repeatedly critical of MEPA for its insensitivity to the impact of developments on residents in various localities. Economic operators were afforded  sufficient protection to be able to over-ride the growing environmental concerns of our communities.

The same MEPA Board which, last Thursday, unanimously decided to refuse the renewal of a development permit to carry out dredging work had, 18 months ago, voted by a large majority in favour of changes to the Freeport’s environmental permit such that it would have been permissible to carry out repairs to ships and oil rigs at the Kalafrana Terminal.  It was only at the insistence of the Birżebbuġa Local Council that the Freeport Terminal management opted not to use the permit issued.

The question to which I seek an answer to is whether Thursday’s events signify that MEPA has awoken up from its slumber and smelled the coffee  It would indeed be commendable if it is capable of standing up to corporate (and state) arrogance.

Ending MEPA’s Rip van Winkle phase would signify that, after all, the possibility to improve the quality of life in Malta through better environment protection does exist, after all. But time is running out.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 22 November 2015

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Meta l-MEPA tiftaħ għajnejha

freeport.aerial viw

 

Il-bieraħ kont preżenti għal-laqgħa tal-Bord tal-MEPA fejn fost affarijiet oħra ġew diskussi żewġ applikazzjonijiet dwar il-Port Ħieles. Kont qed nassisti lill-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Birżebbuġa.

Waħda minn dawn l-applikazzjonijiet kienet biex isir xogħol ta’ dredging ħdejn il-moll tal-Port Ħieles l-iktar viċin tar-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa (West Quay ta’ Terminal 1). L-oħra kienet dwar l-istallazzjoni ta’ krejnijiet ġodda ta’ għoli ta’ 140 metru.

Il-krejnijiet  il-ġodda għall-ewwel kienu destinati biex jitqegħdu fuq il-West Quay ta’ Terminal 1 ukoll. Imma wara li l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Birżebbuġa u bosta residenti oġġezzjonaw għal dan, il-MEPA insistiet mal-Port Ħieles li post il-krejnijiet kellu jinbidel għax dak propost ma kienx aċċettabbli.

Il-maniġment tal-Port Ħieles aċċetta li l-krejnijiet jitqegħdu iktar il-bogħod mir-residenzi f’Birżebbuġa.

Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, il-konsegwenza logika kienet waħda ovvja : jekk il-krejniet ma kienux ser jitqegħdu fil-West Quay ta’ Terminal 1 xi ħtieġa kien għad baqa’ li jsir ix-xogħol tad–dredging?  Ir-residenti  kellhom id-dritt li jkollhom insurance minn attività fil-Port Ħieles li toħloqilhom inkonvenjent.  Dan il-permess li kienu qed jitolbu l-Port Ħieles ma kienx hemm iktar bżonnu.

Jiena ma ridtx nemmen lil widnejja iktar tard meta b’vot unanimu l-Bord tal-MEPA iddeċieda favur Birżebbuġa meta qal le għal iktar xogħol ta’ dredging fil-Port Ħieles. Flimkien miegħi taw kontribut kbir fid-diskussjoni s-Sindku ta’ Birżebbuġa Kevin Barun, il-predeċessur tiegħu r-“Ricky” Joseph Farrugia u l-Onor. Marlene Farrugia u John Grech mill-għaqda ambjentali Birżebbuġa Environmental Action Group.

L-applikazzjoni dwar il-krejnijiet waqfet ukoll u dan minħabba li hemm bżonn li l-parir tal-awtoritajiet tal-avjazzjoni ċivili jkun wieħed ċar. S’issa jidher li dawn qed iduru mal-lewża għax il-krejnijiet huma għoljin wisq u x’aktarx li jinfdu l-flightpath riżervat għall-ajruplani. Jekk dan hu hekk jista’ jkun ta’ periklu.

Jiena għalija din kienet esperjenza ġdida. Ma nafx lill-MEPA taħdem b’dan il-mod. Is-soltu tibqa’ għaddejja qiesha romblu minn fuq id-drittijiet tar-residenti. Jidher li l-bieraħ il-MEPA fetħet għajnejha beraħ.

Nittama li ma tagħlaqhomx iktar. Għax meta l-MEPA tiftaħ għajnejha hemm ċans tajjeb li dan jirrifletti ruħu fi kwalità ta’ ħajja aħjar għalina lkoll.

Mhux biss f’Birżebbuġa, iżda kullimkien.

Sabutaġġ fil-MEPA?

Gonzi.Walker.Demarco.MEPA.reform

Skond ir-rapport ta’ Ann Fenech, Austin Walker il-magħżul ta’ Lawrence Gonzi biex imexxi l-MEPA b’salarju ta’ kważi €100,000 fil-kariga doppja ta’ Chairman u CEO, kien qed jittollera s-sabutaġġ fil-MEPA.

F’paġna 5 tar-rapport tat-telfa taħt it-titlu Burokrazija żejda u sabutaġġi jingħad li “Madankollu kien hemm uffiċjali li bl-iskuża tal-burokrazija jew saħansitra bħala att ta’ sabutaġġ għamluha diffiċli ħafna biex dawn jinqdew. Fuq quddiem nett kien hemm l-Awtorità ta’ Malta dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar – il-MEPA – li saret “nightmare” mhux biss għall-kuntratturi iżda wkoll għall-familji.

Fiż-żmien li Austin Walker kien Chairman tal-MEPA (2008-2013) il-MEPA mxiet aħjar mill-ħames snin ta’ qabel, avolja xorta kien hemm diversi deċiżjonijiet li ma kienux aċċettabbli. Imma b’Austin Walker bħala Chairman naħseb li l-indħil tal-Gvern fl-operat tal-MEPA ma kienx sfaċċat bħalma kien fil-ħames snin ta’ qabel. Kien indħil iktar fin, magħmul b’iktar sengħa. Imma fi kwalunkwe ħin il-ħidma u d-deċiżjonijiet tal-MEPA kienu sinkronizzati mal-linja politika tal-Gvern. Altru milli sabutaġġ!

Imma hi tad-daħk li r-rapport ta’ Ann Fenech jgħid li fil-MEPA kien hemm is-sabutaġġ! Biex tgħid dan il-kliem jew ma jkollokx idea ta’ x’inti tgħid, inkella b’mod sfaċċat trid tgħaddi ż-żmien bin-nies!

Il-MEPA falliet mhux għax ma ħarġitx il-permessi iżda għax ħarġet wisq minnhom! Mhux għax ma “qdietx” iżda għax qdiet lil min ma kellux dritt li jinqeda!

The MEPA Chairman & private practice

Vince-Cassar

The Malta Independent  focuses on the fact that the newly appointed MEPA Chairman is a part-timer and that he is allowed to carry out private work as an Architect & Civil Engineer.

The Malta  Independent is correct in pointing out that this is asking for trouble.  But, I hasten to add that this is just theoretical in the case of the newly appointed MEPA Chairman Vince Cassar.

In all fairness one should add the following relevant information on Vince Cassar. He is past retirement age having served in the public service for over 30 years primarily in the Works Department in various positions up to the post of Director General and lately as Permanent Secretary in the Transport Ministry until 2008. He was in fact the Permanent Secretary attached to Jesmond Mugliette’s Ministry.

As far as I am aware Vince Cassar has no history of private practice during the past 30 years.  He may have been a director since retirement of a limited liability company. But I am not sure of that.  Knowing Vince Cassar I have no doubt that if this is the case he would withdraw immediately if there is the least possibility of a potential conflict of interest.

In view of the above I am of the opinion that Vince Cassar has been unfairly criticised.

One final point: is the role of MEPA Chairman a full-time post?  The answer depends on whether MEPA has a Chief Executive Officer.  If in the affirmative, that is if MEPA has a CEO it is reasonable to expect that a part-time MEPA Chairman could do the job adequately. With a CEO in place the role of MEPA Chairman is to Chair Board meetings and not to run the organisation. With the MEPA Chairman not being involved in the daily running of the organisation he would be more in a position to hold MEPA’s officers to account. That is the MEPA Board’s function and can only be carried out adequately if the MEPA Chairman is not a full timer.