The mauling of Dwejra : an environmental crime

 

Some would have formed the opinion that the basic information on the Dwejra debacle is known to all.

Not quite, I would say.

MEPA issued a permit containing The Consent Conditions relative to a number of sites in Malta and Gozo to be used for filming parts of the tele-serial “Game of Thrones”. One of the sites was at Dwejra Gozo.

Two site specific conditions applicable to Dwejra (conditions 23 and 24 of The Consent Conditions) refer to Areas of Ecological Importance and Sites of Scientific Importance. These are terms used by the Structure Plan to classify the protection afforded to areas of conservation (Structure Plan Policies RCO 1, RCO 2 and RCO 3). Given that the Dwejra site is a Special Area of Conservation I searched and noted that in The Consent Conditions there is no reference whatsoever to Special Areas of Conservation rules and policies, regulated in terms of the Habitats Directive of the EU which was transposed into Maltese law through Legal Notice 311 of 2006 (Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations 2006).

This leads to the logical conclusion that the consent issued by MEPA for the use of the Dwejra site to film part of the tele-serial “Game of Thrones” was only processed in terms of land use planning considerations. Environmental considerations are completely absent: they were completely ignored. The Consent Conditions being a written proof  of this.

Planning vs Environment

During the national debate as to whether it made sense to have land use planning and environment protection forming part of the same authority the Gonzi-Demarco duo  always insisted that MEPA dealing with both would lead to having a much better protection of the environment. Coordination, it was said, was the name of the game. In practice we are faced with something else: land use planning considerations are ruling the day and environmental considerations are being continuously sidelined. The Dwejra case being a typical example.

 

The Species Data Form

Dwejra was included as a Nature 2000 site and consequently as a Special Area of Conservation by the European Union at the request of the Maltese Government which also supplied the detailed justification as to why the area should be protected. The scientific reasons justifying the selection of the site as a Special Area of Conservation are available on the Species Data Form which MEPA had submitted to the EU on behalf of the Government of Malta some years back. An electronic copy is available at the EU website.

EU LIFE+  financial support

In 2003, given the importance of the protection afforded to the site the EU through its LIFE+ Fund  supported a conservation project for the area headed by Nature Trust Malta then in partnership with MEPA and WWF Italy. The EU forked out €324,000 of the EU taxpayers’ money.

Permissible Activity

Permissible activity in a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is a very delicate matter. It is regulated primarily by regulations 18 and 19 of Legal Notice 311 of 2006.

Regulation 18 establishes that a permit is necessary for any activity in an SAC. It also determines who needs to be notified.

Regulation 19 goes in detail and establishes the parameters within which MEPA as the Competent Authority can act. When the consent required is not related to the management of the SAC and it is likely to have a significant effect thereon, MEPA or the applicant is to carry out “an appropriate assessment of the implications of the operation or activity on the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives”.

Legitimate question

After having ascertained, through the assessment, that the integrity of the site is not affected MEPA is required to obtain and take into account “the opinion of the general public and representations made”.  This means that the assessment carried out has to be subject to a public consultation.

In view of the above it is legitimate to ask: was an appropriate assessment carried out? And further, when was this appropriate assessment subjected to the scrutiny of the public in order that representations could be made by the public as well as environmental NGOs?

I am not aware as to whether an appropriate assessment was carried out and hence nor am I aware as to its possible conclusions. However if this assessment was carried out I do not recollect that it was subjected to public consultation.  Nor have any of the environmentalists with whom I have discussed the matter any recollection of this public consultation ever taking place.

The public interest

Regulation 19 of Legal Notice 311/2006 further specifies what is to be done if the appropriate assessment results in negative implications for the SAC site. In such cases MEPA as the Competent Authority may only give its consent to the activity “for imperative reasons of overriding public interest …… of a social or economic nature.”  These reasons are defined as relating to human health, public safety, or beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment or other reasons which in the opinion of the EU Commission are imperative reasons of overriding public interest.   

The consent must be accompanied by “compensatory measures necessary to ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected.”  The EU Commission is furthermore to be informed of these compensatory measures taken by the Competent Authority.

MEPA’s responsibilities

To date the public has been informed in detail as to how the conditions of the permit which MEPA issued to Fire and Blood Productions were not observed. The public is aware that Fire and Blood Productions has apologised for the damage caused but shifted the blame onto its Gozitan sub-contractor.

This only explains one small part of the saga. No one has yet commented as to how MEPA has contributed to the debacle when it is crystal clear that it is precluded from issuing a permit for the Dwejra site in terms of the provisions of the Habitats Directive.

MEPA as the Competent Authority has the duty to ensure that the provisions of the Habitat’s Directive of the EU are observed to the letter. As explained above, through its actions MEPA has ignored both the letter and the spirit of the Habitats Directive.

This leads me to conclude that the damage caused to the SAC was not caused just by the Gozitan sub-contractor acting on behalf of Fire and Blood Productions. Through its lack of observance of the provisions of Legal Notice 311/2006 MEPA has made it much easier for damage to be inflicted onto the Dwejra SAC. Instead of protecting the environment the now reformed MEPA has facilitated its damage.

This is an environmental crime for which persons having a name and a surname are directly and personally responsible.                        

Accountability

It is time to translate words into action.

I hope that investigations currently in hand will identify the names of those responsible in order that they may be requested to account for both their actions as well as their inaction which have led to the Dwejra SAC mauling.

In a country where the organs of the state are bursting at the seams with lawyers one may sometimes assume that in Malta the rule of law is strictly observed. Such incidents prove that one is grossly mistaken in making such assumptions.    

Environmental legislation must be adhered to first of all by the state. If the state through its institutions ignores environmental legislation how do we expect Joe Bloggs to respect it?

The EU has given us the tools to hold decision takers to account. This is a reason why a large number of environmentalists voted in favour of Malta’s accession to the EU. It is the only way to save what’s left of our heritage.

Published in the Environment Supplement of  The Malta Independent on Sunday,   November 21, 2010

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AD demands Mepa information on Dwejra ‘mauling’

 

Carmel Cacopardo, AD’s spokesman on Sustainable Development has asked MEPA in terms of the Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment Regulations of 2005 to release a copy of the permit (including the relative conditions) which it has issued for filming in the Natura 2000 site of Dwejra Gozo.

“The mauling of the Natura 2000 site at Dwejra Gozo in the year 2010, is further proof that MEPA is either incompetent, oblivious of its responsibilities, or else it is unwilling to administer such EU Natura 2000 sites in terms of its responsibilities as the Competent Authority for Malta an EU Member State,” Mr Cacopardo said. “The Dwejra debacle follows the obscene development permits issued by MEPA in Mistra, Baħrija valley, Ramla l-Ħamra Gozo, all Natura 2000 sites. Furthermore it is to be underlined that Malta has received substantial financial aid under the EU Life Project in connection with the management of the Dwejra Natura 2000 site.”

The latest incident at Dwejra raised a number of questions in respect of which answers were expected, he said.

“1. Why was this permit not monitored when it is well known that filming companies tend to ignore limitations imposed by regulatory authorities ?

“2. Why did MEPA not send any of its inspectors at Dwejra, a Natura 2000 site, to monitor adherence to the conditions of the issued permit as is usually done in such cases, thereby ensuring that no damaging actions are taken in hand?

“3. Where was the sand used at Dwejra transported from?

“4. Did the Works Division in the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs issue a permit for the transportation of sand as is required by article 3 of the Sand Preservation Act ?

“5. How can MEPA be sure of the origin of the sand used if it did not carry out adequate monitoring? In particular can it 100% exclude that the sand used was not transported from Ramla l-Ħamra, another Natura 2000 site?

“6. What legal action will be taken in connection with what has happened?”

The AD spokesman said the government through its agencies was not only paying lip service towards the protection of the environment, but to date all it had done had proven to one and all that it did not have an inkling of what environment protection was all about.

as published in timesofmalta.com 4th November 2010

also on maltastar.com 5th November 2010

The White Rocks Project



Dirk Urpani, AD Spokesman on Sports and Youths stated that AD appreciates that at last Government has produced a plan to utilise the abandoned White Rocks site for sports. Dirk Urpani expressed the hope that this project may further enhance a sporting mentality into the minds of the Maltese, all of which stand to gain only if it is properly implemented.

Carmel Cacopardo AD spokesman on Sustainable Development added that
government’s enthusiasm would only be justified if the proposed development is sustainable and consistent with government’s declared policy on the inauguration of the current session of Parliament in 2008. It was then solemnly declared that the Gonzi government would be guided and inspired by the principles of sustainable development. It is now time for Government to show one and all what it has learned from its environmental blunders, including those of the recent past, as was most recently observed in the press by the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Tourism and the Environment.

AD, added Cacopardo, assumes that since it has been declared by Government that the environment is one of its policy pillars it has already taken into consideration the fact that the White Rocks Area borders a Special Area of Conservation which of its very nature limits the type of development and activities permissible. This is one of the duties which Malta has assumed through EU membership as it was this same government which identified this area (adjacent to the White Rocks area) to form part of EU’s Natura 2000 sites subject to the regulations detailed in the Habitats Directive.

In view of the above, Michael Briguglio, AD Chairperson, concluded that it would be appreciated that the Prime Minister, even as Minister responsible for the Environment, puts everyone’s mind at rest how these responsibilities will be honoured now that detailed plans appear to have been finalised.

AD will be able to comment further about the project when the detailed plans are published.

_______

 

Dirk Urpani, kelliemi ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) dwar iż-Żgħażagħ u l-Isports jgħid li AD tapprezza li fl-aħħar tfaċċa pjan biex iż-żona mitluqa magħrufa bħala White Rocks tintuża għal attivita sportiva. Dirk Urpani esprima t-tama illi dan il-proġett jista’ jgħin l-iżvilupp sportiv fil-Maltin. Dan iżda jseħħ biss kemm-il darba l-proġett ikun implimentat sewwa.

Carmel Cacopardo kelliemi ta’ AD ghall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli kompla li l-ħeġġa li qed tintwera tkun ġustifikata biss jekk l-iżvilupp propost ikun wieħed
sostenibbli u konsistenti mad-diskors programmatiku tal-Gvern fil-ftuħ tal-Parlament fl-2008 fejn gie dikjarat solennement li l-Gvern Gonzi ser ikun illuminat mill-prinċipji ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli. Huwa l-mument li l-Gvern juri jekk tgħallimx mill-iżbalji ambjentali li għamel anke’ fil-passat riċenti, u dan kif osserva tant tajjeb reċentement f’ġurnal lokali s-Segretarju Parlamentari responsabbli mit-Turiżmu u l-Ambjent.

AD, żied jgħid Cacopardo tassumi li billi l-ambjent illum huwa pilastru ewlieni tal-politika dikjarata tal-Gvern dan diġa ħa in konsiderazzjoni il-fatt li
l-area tal-White Rocks tmiss ma’ Żona Speċjali ta’ Konservazzjoni (Special Area of Conservation) li allura minna nnifisha tillimita x’tip ta’ żvilupp u attivita’ tista’ issir fl-inħawi. Dan huwa wieħed mill-obbligi li Malta daħlet għalihom bis-sħubija fl-Unjoni Ewropea meta kien il-Gvern innifsu li identifika ż-żona biex tagħmel parti min-Natura 2000 tal-Unjoni Ewropea. L-obbligi kollha dwar dan joħorġu mid-Direttiva tal-Habitats.

Għaldaqstant temm jghid Michael Briguglio, Chairperson ta’ AD,  AD tapprezza jekk l-Prim Ministru jserraħ ras kulhadd u jekk issa li jidher li hemm pjani dettaljati dwar il-progett jinforma lill-pubbliku kif dawn l-obbligi ser ikunu onorati.

AD tkun tista’ tikkummenta fid-dettall dwar il-proġett meta l-pjanijiet kollha
dettaljati jkunu pubbliċi.

TEN-T : The Għadira Nodes

times_of_malta196x703

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!

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.