Environment hit by EU funds

July 27, 2019

Saturday, 27th July, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

On July 18, the Planning Authority approved the Attard Central Link Project for which the EU is going to contribute €55 million.

There were a lot of questions and doubts on this project which everybody hoped a meeting would iron out. Not only were these not answered but even more doubts were cast.

The meeting was opened by the Infrastructure Malta CEO, Engineer Fredrick Azzopardi, representing the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure. He tried to convince those present that this Central Link project has many benefits. Stakeholders subsequently expressed more doubts and asked more questions, confirming the lack of public consultations.

Here is a résumé of the questions:

Those present for the meeting asked how such a project would be beneficial for full-time or part-time farmers, and those involved in animal husbandry.

There were also questions about the loss of 22,000 square metres of agricultural land and the subsequent loss of jobs due to this land being destroyed.

There were concerns about the fruit and crops in the area since these would be covered with additional emissions that would disperse across the adjacent fields.

The biodiversity of the area was also a point of concern seeing as this was facing the destruction of more than 550 trees, many of which are protected, and the loss of their contribution to climate change and the ecological niches of which they form part.

Questions were asked about the hydrological system feeding Wied is-Sewda, along with the farmers’ cisterns and the disruption of natural water flow destroyed by the project (which was unbelievably referred to as “flood water”).

Not to mention the concerns about the psychological and physical health of residents in the vicinity and beyond Attard, including those residing in Siġġiewi and Qormi, given the increase in noise pollution and toxic chemicals that the project is sure to cause.

There was also the question about the cultural heritage of the area and the number of historical constructions that would be threatened, some dating back to the times of the Knights of Malta.

Will the towers being built close to the Malta Financial Services Authority, nonchalantly approved by the lack-of-vision, commercially minded PA – definitely be­yond the carrying capacity of the area – be the main beneficiaries of the public land being taken up and the EU funds being spent?

None of the social and environmental elements mentioned above is going to bene­fit from this EU-funded project.

None of the questions were answered by the CEO of Infrastructure Malta. None of the concerns put forward were even addressed. The Environment Im­pact Assessment presented gave a very superficial indication of the project’s negative impacts.

The chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, as silent as a grave, in a later interview in the press (July 19) was quoted as saying that “he had nothing to add” because none of the comments raised by stakeholders during the meeting changed anything from the ERA’s report.

He called most interventions against the project “emotional”! He also justified the project “on the basis of national interest”.

In yet another section of the press (July 19), Environment Minister José Herrera said that “the authority (ERA) would be vigilant and in a consistent way, [fulfil] its duties to offer the greatest elements of protection to our natural capital, and this with the means and parameters established by law”.

This trophy was first awarded to MEPA in 2015. Despite the fact that the year 2019 is not yet out, this has been awarded to the Planning Authority and the Infrastructure Malta for the environmental devastation that they are involved in.

 

So long as there are EU funds, then they have to be spent irrespective of the foreseen environmental destruction

The Infrastructure Malta CEO said that this project, according to his economist’s report, will “give back” €16 savings for every €1 spent without even saying how. His economist did not refer to any externalities or the hidden costs that would be borne by the public and the environment. No wonder all the above questions asked were ignored by the CEO.

With regard to the uprooting of trees, he told the press, with hand on heart, “they are using the ERA compensation system of planting trees for those uprooted”, and that the “trees to be planted as compensation will have to be at least three metres tall”. This implies they will all be imported irrespective of the possible dangers of diseases and other invasive species they may bring with them, contrary to EU recommendations as administered by ERA.

Farmers were up in arms when they heard the Infrastructure Malta CEO say that they had been consulted, and could not keep from emphasising that this was a blatant lie.

This is how decisions are taken in Malta – a final late meeting on decision day without the stakeholders being properly consulted, despite this being a requirement whenever EU funds are involved.

All stakeholders and the public have to be involved and consulted so that they are part of the decision rather than just being informed of the decision after it has been taken. Consultation does not mean planting political individuals amidst the public and stakeholders and having them clap every time their minister’s wishes are supported.

The bottleneck at the roundabout beneath Saqqajja Hill will not only remain as it is but will become worse because of the heavier and faster volume of traffic that will be introduced, as advertised by the Ministry’s billboard in Attard.

How on earth can one imagine that the bulk of this traffic has to make its way up Saqqajja Hill where there are only two carriageways? No explanation whatsoever was given by the Infrastructure engineer.

Unbelievably, the EU is dishing out €55 million to the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure for this particular project, while stakeholders and the public have to depend on voluntary contributions to protect the country from environmental and social destruction.

If there were no EU funds, there would not be such useless environmental destruction taking place. The impression one gets is that, so long as there are EU funds, then they have to be spent irrespective of the foreseen environmental destruction.

ERA, the competent authority recognised by the EU for the protection of the environment, gave its endorsement of this environmental destruction because most of the questions asked, according to the ERA chairman, were “emotional”.

On its website, the ERA says that it is committed “to safeguard the environment for a sustainable quality of life”. There was no confirmation of this whatsoever from the ERA chairman during the meeting, which took place on a very black Thursday for the Maltese environment, with the blessing of ERA.

Can anybody with a real national, social and environmental conscience, and without any political influence, be blamed for losing all confidence in ERA?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 

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Rabat Road trees would not survive being transplanted

June 19, 2018

Tuesady, June 19, 2018

Rabat Road trees would not survive being transplanted – expert

Revised plans reduced the number by 60

Keith Micallef

Photo: Chris Sant Fournier (Times of Malta)

Updated 10am – Added PD statement

A biodiversity expert has branded a plan to uproot dozens of trees along the so-called ‘Rabat Road’ the result of an unprecedented “wave of environmental destruction” financed through taxpayers’ money.

Alfred Baldacchino said measures to transplant the uprooted Aleppo pine trees from Rabat Road and import mature ones were doomed

Alfred Baldacchino said measures to transplant the uprooted Aleppo pine trees from Rabat Road and import mature ones were doomed.

Alfred Baldacchino also warned that measures to transplant the uprooted Aleppo pine trees and then import mature ones were doomed to fail.

Mr Baldacchino gave this damning assessment when the Times of Malta sought his views on a controversial €55 million project to upgrade the arterial road from the foot of Saqqajja Hill down to Mrieħel.

The Central Link Project, as it is known, came under a barrage of criticism following a story published last Saturday, which highlighted the large number of mature Aleppo pines facing the axe.

Read: Official promises about Rabat road trees rubbished by eNGO

Despite official Transport Malta plans identifying every tree earmarked for uprooting, the Transport Ministry said this was not the case. In a statement it acknowledged that trees would have to be uprooted and transplanted, but insisted 212 additional trees would be planted.

A few hours after the controversy erupted, a batch of revised plans were uploaded on the Planning Authority’s website. Compared to the original ones, the number of trees identified for uprooting in the stretch of road from Mount Carmel Hospital to the foot of Saqqajja Hill was revised downwards by about 60.

However, no change whatsoever was noted in the rest of the route from Attard to Mrieħel, where another significant number of trees could be uprooted.

In his reaction, Mr Baldacchino, a former assistant director of the Environmental Protection Directorate at the now defunct Malta Environment and Planning Authority, did not mince his words at his disapproval for the uprooting of the mature trees.

“By being given the wrong advice, Transport Minister Ian Borg has been put in an embarrassing situation. Aleppo pine trees cannot be transplanted,” he explained. “Similar trees which were uprooted from Castille Square near the Manuel Dimech monument and transplanted elsewhere – including at the Pietà pinetum – did not survive,” Mr Baldacchino added.

He also pointed out that importing mature trees was another measure doomed to fail and on which the minister has been misadvised.

TIMES TALK: ‘Some trees survived the war, but not this Environment Minister’

“The measure was taken some years ago when the new bus terminus was being constructed, prior to the Arriva takeover. The majority of the imported mature trees died,” he remarked.

“More often than not transplanting and importing mature trees is a waste of energy and money. While each tree costs about €500 to transplant, importing one costs thousands,” he said.

“If such money was used to plant locally grown trees, the result would be much better, given that these would need some years to grow.”

Mr Baldacchino was also in contact with the minister himself in an attempt to draw his attention to the facts.

The former Mepa official summed up his feelings by saying the situation on the environment was of huge concern.

“I have never witnessed such a wave of environmental destruction from taxpayers’ money with the blessing of those who are responsible to safeguard biodiversity,” Mr Baldacchino said.

He noted it was also very telling that none of the online petitions to save the trees were coming from the Opposition ranks.

This trend has to stop’ – PD

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the PD noted that Malta’s environmental regulator had turned down just two of 67 applications to uproot trees last year.

The same trend could be seen in the first four months of the year, with 32 ERA approvals and not a single rejection, they said. The information came as a result of parliamentary questions made by PD MP Godfrey Farrugia.

Dr Farrugia and fellow PD MP Marlene Farrugia have asked parliament’s Environment and Planning Committee to review the ERA’s and Plant Protection Directorate’s existing policies and regulations.

“Our country is already arid and we have to preserve what greenery is left, not continue to destroy until no trees are left,” the party sad. “This has become a matter of grave urgency.”

Environment Resource Authority Mission Statement – Alfred E. Baldacchinio

Who we are

The Environment and Resources Authority shall safeguard the environment to achieve a sustainable quality of life. 

Our Mission
“To safeguard the environment for a sustainable quality of life”

Our Goals

“·         To mainstream environmental targets and objectives across Government and society.

·         To take the leading role in advising Government on environmental policy-making at the national level, as well as in the context of international environmental negotiations.

·         To develop evidence-based policy; backed by a robust data gathering structure.

·         To draw up plans, provide a licensing regime and monitor activities having an environmental impact and to integrate environmental considerations within the development control process.”

Our Philosophy 

“As the national regulator on the environment, we shall also maintain consultation with stakeholders so as to promote and instill sound environmental management.”

aebaldacchino@gmail.com