The Malta-Gozo tunnel: the final countdown to Gozo’s plunder starts now

Next Wednesday is a public holiday. It is also the closing date of the public consultation being carried out by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) on the terms of reference for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be carried out on the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel.

The ERA website presents two documents to assist those participating in the public consultation. These documents explain the proposal and highlight a number of issues that will require further investigation in order to assist the decision-takers in choosing for the “optimum” solution.

There is a number of glaring deficiencies in these documents which indicate the contempt that Transport Malta has for our environmental heritage.

Transport Malta bases its proposals on the Mott MacDonald Report of March 2012 entitled: Preliminary Analysis: Assessment of Road Tunnel Options between Malta and Gozo. After considering the four options for a tunnel as resulting from the Mott MacDonald report, Transport Malta opted for an amended version of option number 4 which is proposed as consisting of a single bore two lane tunnel between the area below Ta’ Kenuna in Nadur, Gozo and L-Imbordin along the Pwales Valley in St Paul’s Bay in Malta.

We are told in the published documentation that the first three options were discarded because they could be the cause of considerable environmental damage to the seabed, as well as to the Għadira Nature Reserve. However, neither Transport Malta nor the ERA considered it appropriate to mention that the selected option, an amended option 4, stretches the Malta portal of the proposed tunnel to the Pwales valley very close to the Simar Nature Reserve and right through the Miżieb perched aquifer.

The Simar Nature Reserve is an EU Natura 2000 site, while the Miżieb perched aquifer is the only part of our water table that is still in a relatively good state. Consequently, two important EU Directives will most probably be infringed: The Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive.

Based on NSO statistics, in 2015 average number of daily vehicular crossings between Malta and Gozo was around 3,000. The various studies and reports published to date indicate that it is estimated that a tunnel between the two islands would trigger an increase to between 9,000 and 10,000 vehicle crossings daily. Gordon Cordina of Ecubed in his report commissioned by Transport Malta and the Gozo Business Chamber indicates a 9,000-daily mark, while Mott MacDonald points towards the 10,000 mark.

This considerable increase in vehicular movements needs to be analysed in terms of current transport policy. The Transport Master Plan, adopted by the current government and funded by the European Regional Development Fund, is very clear. It lays down that during its 10-year lifespan (2016-25) it will be an operational objective of transport policy in Malta to aim to provide alternatives to the use of private vehicles and to reduce the role of the private car as a means of transport in the Maltese Islands.

So, Transport Malta, on behalf of the Maltese government, spells out transport policy in 2016 aimed at addressing traffic congestion in Malta by encouraging a modal shift towards sustainable mobility. Yet it then comes out with proposals such as the Malta-Gozo Tunnel, which can only be feasible if there is an astronomical increase in vehicular traffic on our roads.

The documents placed by the ERA on its website to feed the public consultation process on the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel ignore transport policy altogether.

This is the current state of affairs. By now we are accustomed to having a Planning Authority acting in synch with the development lobby. Unfortunately, it seems that the Environment and Resources Authority is closely following in its footsteps. The final countdown is on. It will inevitably lead to the plunder of Gozo as well.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 August 2018

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Id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi

Il-qoxra tal-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport intitolat National Transport Master Plan 2025 fuq nett juri l-emblema tal-Fond Ewropew għall-Iżvilupp Reġjonali biex jurina li kien iffinanzjat minn fondi tal-Unjoni Ewropea. Dan il-pjan li hu ppubblikat minn Transport Malta kien iffinalizzat f’Ottubru 2016.

Iċ-Chairman (u CEO) ta’ Transport Malta, jgħidilna f’dikjarazzjoni stampata qabel il-pjan, li l-iskop tal-pjan hu biex itejjeb il-kwalitá tak-ħajja tagħna.

Wieħed mill-oġġettivi ta’ dan il-pjan li ftit nisimgħu dwaru huwa dak li jfittex li jipprovdi alternattivi għall-użu ta’ karozzi privati biex tkun inkoraġġita mobilitá sostenibbli u bħala riżultat tonqos id-domanda għall-karozzi fit-toroq tagħna.

Billi, kif anke jgħidilna l-pjan innifsu, madwar nofs il-vjaġġi bil-karozzi privati idumu inqas minn kwarta, nistgħu nikkonkludu li l-mobilitá meħtieġa hi waħda ta’ natura lokali u dan għal distanzi ferm qosra. Xi bżonn għandna ta’ karozzi privati għal dan? Il-mezzi ta’ transport alternattiv mhumiex biżżejjed għal dawn il-ħtiġijiet f’pajjiż fejn prattikament kullimkien hu tefa’ ta’ ġebla ‘l-bogħod?

Sirna dipendenti wisq fuq il-karozzi privati. Il-Malti, jgħidilna l-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport fil-paġna 88, jippretendi li kulħadd jibdel id-drawwiet tiegħu biex hu jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozza!

Din hi l-problema rejali tat-toroq Maltin: l-imġieba u l-aspettattivi tagħna. Il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hi fil-fatt il-konsegwenza ta’ din id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi privati.

Sfortunatament il-proġetti massiċċi li jindirizzaw l-infrastruttura tat-toroq, kemm dawk li bdew kif ukoll dawk ippjanati, jinjoraw kompletament din id-dipendenza u minflok jiffukaw fuq il-ħtieġa immaġinarja ta’ żieda fil-kapaċitá tat-toroq. Mela l-politika dwar it-trasport tagħna, flok ma tindirizza dak li qed joħloq il-problemi tal-mobilitá, qed tiffoka fuq l-effetti bit-tama li tnaqqashom. Dan sakemm l-effetti jerġgħu jakkumlaw u mbagħad ikun ovvjament wasal iż-żmien għal iktar toroq u flyovers! Viżjoni mċajpra iktar minn din għad irrid nara!

L-istat Malti ftit qed jinvesti bejn jgħinna nikkuraw ruħna minn din id-dipendenza.

Dan l-investiment massiv fl-iżvilupp ta’ iktar toroq qiegħed jibgħat messaġġ wieħed, li jkolli ngħid qiegħed jinftiehem b’mod ċar ħafna: il-karozza privata hi l-mezz preferut tal-Gvern Malti għat-trasport. Dan hu l-iktar mod faċli kif tindirizza l-problema: għax bil-flus it-toroq mhux fil-baħar biss tbniehom. B’hekk ikun evitati d-diffikultaiet kbar biex ikunu indirizzati l-attitudnijiet u l-imġiba tagħna lkoll. Attitudnijiet u mġiba li huma r-reazzjoni tagħna, bħala komunitá, għan-nuqqas tal-istat Malti (fuq perjodu twil ta’ żmien) li jindirizza l-ħtiġijiet tagħna għal mobilitá sostenibbli.

Meta l-istat jibgħat messaġġ daqshekk ċar jkun qiegħed jinnewtralizza l-impatti posittivi kollha tal-ftit inizjattivi (b’finanzjament relattivament limitat) favur il-mobilitá sostenibbli. Dawn jinkludu, fost oħrajn, sussidji għat-trasport pubbliku, inċentivi biex jinxtraw ir-roti u sussidji biex jinħolqu l-faċilitajiet neċessarji għal xowers fuq il-post tax-xogħol bħala inkoraġġiment għal min irid imur ix-xogħol bir-rota.
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Madwar erba’ snin ilu, l-Istitut għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli u t-Tibdil fil-Klima tal-Universitá ta’ Malta kien ippubblika studju li kien ġie ffinanzjat mill-Unjoni Ewropea li kien intitolat The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta. Dak l-istudju kien ikkonkluda li l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku kien qed jiekol 1.7% minn dak kollu li jipproduċi l-pajjiż fis-sena.

Ma jkunx forsi aħjar kieku flok ma nibqgħu iffissati fuq in-numru u l-qisien tat-toroq inħarsu ftit fil-mera u nirrealizzaw li l-problema mhux it-toroq imma aħna u l-imġiba tagħna? Id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi teħtieġ kura mingħajr iktar dewmien.

 

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum il-Ħadd – 3 ta’ Ġunju 2018

Our car addiction

The front cover of Malta’s National Transport Master Plan 2025 boldly bears the logo of the European Regional Development Fund, indicating that it was funded by European Union funds.

This Master Plan, published by Transport Malta, was finalised in October 2016. The Transport Malta Chairman and CEO, in the statement preceding the actual text of the said Master Plan emphasises that it is fundamentally “about improving the quality of life of our citizens”.

One of the objectives of the Master Plan which we do not hear much about is the one that seeks to provide alternatives to private vehicles in order to encourage sustainable travel patterns and thus reduce private vehicular demand.

Given that, as pointed out by the Master Plan, 50 per cent of trips with private cars are of under 15 minutes duration, it follows that mobility is primarily local in nature and on very short routes. Do we need private cars for this? Are not alternative means of transport sufficient for this need (and more) in a country where practically everywhere is within a stone’s throw?

We have become too dependent on private cars. The Maltese traveller, we are informed by the Master Plan (page 88) expects that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.

This is the real problem with our roads: our behaviour and our expectations. Traffic congestion is, in fact, the result of this addiction to private vehicles. Unfortunately, the massive infrastructural road projects planned or in hand ignore this national addiction and instead focus on the perceived need of removing bottlenecks through an increased road capacity. Instead of transport policy being focused on the causes of our mobility problems, they are more focused on reducing the impacts of the effects. That is until such time that the effects increase once more – at which point it would be time for more roads and obviously more flyovers! A truly myopic vision.

Too little investment is made by the state on the need to cure us of our addiction.

This massive investment in road development sends one clear message: the private car is the Maltese government’s preferred mode of transport. This attitude is clearly the easy way out as it throws money at the problem of congested roads and avoids the very difficult task of addressing our attitudes and behaviour. Our attitudes and behaviour are an accumulated response of the country’s sustainable mobility requirements to the state’s neglect over a long time.

When the state sends out such a clear message it neutralises the positive impact of the few under-funded initiatives which promote sustainable mobility. These include, among others, public transport subsidies, incentives to purchase bicycles and subsidies for the creation of facilities such as showers at places of work encouraging cycling to work.

Some four years ago, the University of Malta’s Institute for Sustainable Development and Climate Change published an EU-funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta. The conclusions of that study had indicated that, every year, traffic congestion in Malta gobbles up 1.7 per cent of our GDP.

Isn’t it about time that we start tackling the issue seriously, which means focusing on our attitudes and behaviour instead of on the number and dimensions of our roads? Our addiction to cars needs a cure.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 3 June 2018

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

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-krejnijiet tal-Port Ħieles

Freeport 2015

 

Għada l-Ħamis, il-Bord tal-MEPA ser jiddiskuti l-applikazzjoni  (PA 3859/14) biex ikunu stallati numru ta’ krejnijiet mill-kbar: b’għoli ta’ 140 metru.

L-applikazzjoni għadha mhiex deċiża, imma l-krejnijiet diġa huma stallati. Attitudni  arroganti ta’ min jippretendi li għalih l-applikazzjoni hi biss formalità. Waqt li l-applikazzjoni għad ma ġietx deċiża dawn il-krejnijiet ġew ordnati, inħadmu, u ġew trasportati lejn Malta u tqegħdu ukoll fuq il-post.

Il-Bord tal-MEPA għadu ma ħax deċiżjoni dwar dawn il-krejnijiet minħabba li l-parir li sal-lum tat Transport Malta kien wieħed ambigwu.

Fil-fatt, f’Awwissu li għadda Transport Malta f’ittra indirizzata lill-MEPA qalet li dawn il-krejnijiet jidħlu madwar 18-il metru fiż-żona riżervata għall-ajruplani, u li f’ċirkustanzi oħra ma jkunux permessi. Imma minħabba tal-importanza tal-Port Ħieles għall-ekonomija, għal darba biss, dawn ser ikunu kkunsidrati.

L-ittra tuża l-kliem “this situation is not desirable”.

Transport Malta, l-ewwel u qabel kollox, għandha responsabbiltà biex tħares is-sigurtà tan-nies. Mhux biss ta’ dawk li jagħmlu użu mill-ajruplani imma anke tal-ħaddiema tal-Port Ħieles u tar-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa. Ma jistax ikun għaldaqstant li tieħu din l-attitudni : li tikkomprometti s-sigurtà, u dan għall-ebda raġuni.

Nittamaw li Transport Malta tkun iktar ċara għax s’issa qagħdet iddur mal-lewża.

Freeport cranes advice 0815

 

Gozo Channel: tunnelling discounts

discounts

 

When the current Gozo Channel tunnel debate was initiated around five years ago, the then Minister Chris Said went on record to emphasise that the proposed tunnel, to be bored under the seabed would cost approximately €150 million. This estimate has now been upped to €300 million.

This is one of the basic assumptions underlying the study commissioned by Transport Malta, together with the Gozo Business Chamber, and carried out by E Cubed Consultants Ltd, commonly referred to as the “economic and financial feasibility study”.

The study makes interesting reading as it considers the economics of the so-called permanent link between the islands of Gozo and Malta. I respectfully submit that the conclusions of this study are as valid as the basic assumptions which underpin it.

I draw the attention of readers to the fact that proposals for various tunnels are currently under consideration in other countries.

The first is the proposed Trans-Pennine tunnel, intended to improve the transport links between Sheffield and Manchester in the UK. The ambitious 18- mile (29km) tunnel would be built under the A628 Woodhead Pass. After having established that the geology of the Pennines was suitable for such a project, it was estimated that the approximate cost would be a staggering £6 billion (€8.40 billion).

The second UK project is the much-debated and controversial tunnel at Stonehenge. Intended to upgrade the A303 road, it is projected to have a length of 1.8 miles (2.9 km) and is currently estimated to cost £490 million (€700 million).

Another projected tunnel, recently given the green light, will pass between the Danish island of Lolland and the German island of Fehmarn. Construction work on this 19 km tunnel should start next January and it is estimated to cost €8.7 billion.

The estimates for the proposed tunnels in the United Kingdom indicate that the cost of a 10 km tunnel would exceed the €2 billion mark, even before taking into account the fact that excavating below the seabed would cost substantially more. In addition, the Danish/German tunnel indicates a pro-rata cost of €4.7 billion for a 10 kilometre tunnel.

In addition, the geological parameters below the Gozo Channel are still largely unknown: geological studies have to be carried out and examined in detail in order to establish the facts. Without these facts, the basic information necessary to take essential design decisions is still unavailable. What is known is worrying enough: the presence of active geological faults running right through the proposed route of the tunnel.

The study’s conclusions – that the proposed tunnel is economically viable – have  been reached prior to the carrying out of geological studies. Even the estimated costs used in the economic viability study have been established before these essential geological studies.

In this type of project, no estimate of costs can be precise – especially if it is not based on adequate and essential information.

This indicates that the conclusion of the economic viability study was premature.

In addition to the geological studies, additional important (and essential) studies have (as far as is known) not yet been commissioned. These include studies on the environmental impact, business impact and social impact.

Once concluded, such studies will inevitably point to other issues that will require detailed consideration, including the extent to which the projected permanent link between Malta and Gozo will toll the death knell for holiday accommodation in Gozo: hotels, flats and farmhouses.

The above indicates that, unless the promoters of the tunnel have some cast-iron guarantee of substantial discounts on the costs, the proposal is a non-starter even before any consideration of the environmental, business and social impact. It is about time to begin serious work on the practical alternative: a fast ferry service between Gozo and the Grand Harbour.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 December 2015

L-istima tal-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex: kemm marret smerċ?

Gozo_tunnel_route_alignment_options

 

Meta madwar ħames snin ilu beda d-dibattitu kurrenti dwar il-mina taħt il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex, Chris Said, dakinnhar Ministru, kien qal li l-istima approssimattiva biex din issir kienet ta’ €150 miljun.

Issa qiegħed jingħad illi l-istima hi ta’ €300 miljun. L-istima irduppjat f’ħames snin!

Bħalissa fir-Renju Unit għaddej dibattitu dwar ta’ l-inqas żewġ mini.

Waħda minnhom hi bejn Manchester u Sheffield, mina twila 18-il mil (29 kilometru). L-ispiża dwarha hi stmata sitt biljun sterlina (madwar €8.4 biljun). Somma mhux żgħira.  Bl-istess rata ta’ infieq, il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex li ser tkun twila 10 kilometri tiġi tiswa €2.8 biljun. Ħafna iktar mit-€300 miljun li qed jgħidu l-esperti Maltin.

Hemm ukoll għaddejja diskussjoni dwar mina minn taħt Stonehenge tat-tul ta’ 2.9 kilometri bl-aħħar stima tkun ta’ £ 460 miljun sterlina. Bl-istess rata ta’ infieq, il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex li ser tkun twila 10 kilometri tiġi tiswa €2272 miljuni.

Dan kollu hu indikazzjoni ta’ kemm tista’ tiġi tiswa l-mina taħt il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex. M’huwiex definittiv imma juri li ċ-ċifri li qed jikkunsidra l-lobby favur il-mina huma żbaljati.  Għax bejn €300 miljun u ċifra sostanzjalment iktar minn €2 biljuni, bil-fors li hemm xi ħaga ħażina x’imkien.

Dan hu importanti li jingħad, għax l-istudju dwar il-vijabilità ekonomika tal-mina, li ġie ikkummissjonat minn Transport Malta flimkien mal-Gozo Business Chamber, hu bbażat fuq stima ta’ €300 miljun. Issa l-ebda stima ma tkun preċiża. Dejjem ikun hemm xi varjazzjoni anke meta tkun stima ibbażata fuq pjan preċiż, għax f’dan ix-xogħol dejjem jinqala’ xi ħaġa li ma tkunx prevista. Imma altru li l-istima ma tkunx preċiża u altru li jkun hemm differenza ta’ iktar minn 7 darbiet.

Li hu żgur hu li dak l-istudju (dwar il-vijabilità ekonomika tal-mina) kien prematur minħabba li l-analiżi ġeoloġika għadha ma saritx. Issa l-analiżi ġeoloġika inevitabilment ser ikollha impatt sostanzjali fuq il-proposta definittiva tal-mina. Hu magħruf li r-rotta tal-mina tgħaddi minn żona li hi ġeoloġikament attiva, liema fatt, bla dubju, jżid in-nefqa minħabba l-prewkazzjonijiet li ser ikunu meħtieġa.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu, ħaga waħda hi ċara: hemm min għandu interess li jibqa’ jittama li l-mina hi possibli li ssir. Apparti l-problemi ta’ ġeoloġija, ambjent, impatt soċjali u impatt fuq in-negozju (li l-istudji dwarhom għad iridu jsiru) hemm ukoll indikazzjonijiet ċari li l-proġett l-anqas hu vijabbli ekonomikament, għax l-istima li fuqha nħadmu l-kalkoli ta’ vijabilità ekonomika hi ħafna l-bogħod mir-realtà.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu, bil-fors tasal għall-konkluzjoni li hemm min irid jgħaddi n-nies biż-żmien. Għax għalkemm hu kmieni biex tasal għal stima definittiva, l-indikazzjonijiet kollha juru li ċ-ċifra użata sa issa għall-argumentazzjoni minn dawk kollha favur il-proposta tal-mina hi ħafna l-bogħod mir-realtà.

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

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.