To Gozo with love

January 8, 2019

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The proposed Gozo tunnel has resurfaced once again. No surprise. The MEP elections are round the corner. It is normal that white elephants are driven in the political arena during such times.

Their main aim is to try to get on board the blindfolded followers who can be convinced that a circle is square, especially if this comes from the political leaders, no matter from which side.

This time a new step in this regard has been made. An international call for tenders for the construction of the 10 km underwater tunnel, plus additional inland excavation – approximately an additional 5 km – was announced.

The information was revealed by the Minister for Transport, who regrettably, is already associated with the destruction of any tree which dares stand in the way of spending EU millions to widen roads – the latest to bite the dust are national trees at Buqana.

Suggested socially and environmentally friendly alternative connections between the two islands.

Does the public have a right to know what were the findings of the social, environmental and financial impacts of this tunnel? After all, our country belongs to all of us and not just to politicians and entrepreneurs.

Has consideration been given to the negative impacts of such works on the only remaining unadulterated water catchment area at l-Imbordin?  How will this affect the water table? And how will this affect the livelihood of  those involved in agriculture in the area?

What about the Gozitan farmers on the other side of the tunnel exit? Is this of importance? Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists? Have such studies been undertaken despite the official tender calls? Has the general public a right to know of these negative impacts or are these confidential too? Would any professional firm tender for such works without such important scientific studies?

How much deeper under the 35 m of sea-depth will the tunnel be excavated? What kind of geological strata grace such depths? What is the position of the ERA?

Who will be giving the assurance and take responsibility for any loss of human life and limb in meddling with such dangerous large and deep sea bottom faults the area is full of, as has been pointed out by geologist Peter Gatt?

Will the responsible minister and the Planning Authority, which incidentally is in his portfolio, be shouldering all responsibility for loss of human life and ecological and social destruction and disasters, both on the site in question and also, directly or indirectly, in the affected areas? Somebody has to.

The answer to these and other questions raised by sociologist Godfrey Baldacchino ‘What purpose should tunnel serve?’ (January 4) have never been addressed, much more answered.

In the background of this political circus, one can hear the artificial, shameless pleadings that this is all in the interest of the general public, especially Gozitans, who deserve to have better crossing facilities between the two islands. No doubt about it.

Everybody agrees that Gozitans and Maltese deserve better crossing facilities. But not with such destructive decisions bereft of any technical and scientific studies, solely based on local arbitrary political acumen and agendas.

There is an ever-increasing momentum among the public, not least Gozitans, that the best environmental, social and financially friendly approach is the fast ferry service between the two islands. These can run not just from Mġarr to Ċirkewwa, but also to St Paul’s Bay or Qawra, to Sliema and also to Valletta.

And if found that there is the appropriate economically feasible demand, also to the Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk.

This would help commuters from getting caught in traffic jams along the way in St Paul’s Bay, Mosta, Birkirkara, Msida, Ħamrun, Floriana or everywhere along their journey across the island, something the tunnel can never achieve. The sea routes are already available at no cost at all. And these do not need any widening.

Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists?

If the Ministry of Transport is open to suggestions, unless they believe that the people out there can all be convinced that a circle is square, they can plan a holistically better managed public transport system on both islands, in connection with the stops of these fast ferries service. The present service between the two islands should also form part of this national transport management plan.

Such holistic public transport management can include, among others, a shuttle service from the Valletta ferry stop to the Valletta bus terminus to cut down on private transport and help commuters reach their destination easier.

Another shuttle service can take commuters to the Blata l-Bajda park-and-ride to reach a parked car which, if one wishes, can be left there. Such facilities can also be available at every fast-ferry stop.

This would be far less expensive and more socially and environmentally friendly than the proposed tunnel, in all aspects. It would also help commuters to cut down on expenses, both in the consumption of petrol, and also in the wear and tear of their cars. It would also help to further reduce pollution from the urban and rural environment, with all its negative impacts on the people’s physical and psychological health.

Furthermore this would also help to lessen the stress in crossing from one island to the other, especially through the 15 km+ tunnel, where all the psychological impact studies seem to have been completely ignored. Unless of course these negative social impacts are also officially regarded as further contributing to the economy.

It would also be interesting to know the toll commuters will have to pay to use the tunnel. It seems that this is not in the public interest either, possibly because it might scare some of the ‘faithful’ who may have concluded that driving through the tunnel would be free, like driving through any other road.

From past experience, I am convinced that the minister responsible for transport has a positive environmental awareness and would positively study any alternative suggestions. However, I have my doubts how much power he has to decide himself because of directions from upstairs.

From the way the social and environmental fabric of these islands is being officially exploited and destroyed, without any scientific studies or regard for their negative impacts, it is very difficult not to conclude that their destruction is part of an official political agenda supported by the square-circled mentality, and endorsed by some academics paid to decide politically and not to think professionally.

The Minister for Transport, nonetheless, is both personally and collectively responsible for the future sanity and well-being of the people of these islands and their environment with regards to the tunnel and transport management.

The crossing to Gozo and back can be made easier for the benefit of the people of these islands, with love and not with co-ordinated politically motivated destruction.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Alfred Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

other related articles:

Tunnelling the cross

Efficient link to Gozo

 

 

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It never rains, it pours

March 26, 2016

times of malta

Saturday, 26th March 2016

It never rains, it pours
Alfred E. Baldacchino

The lack of rain this winter has become a great concern for many social leaders. Parched valleys, dried cisterns, empty wells, wilted vegetation, worried farmers, are just a harbinger of things to come during the coming hottest months of the year. This acute drought is making some leaders, whether political or religious, feel a little bit wet under the collar.

Seemingly as a last resort, I would say more for convenience sake to appease their faithful, these social leaders are either reverting to PR exercises instead of working on the long overdue water management plans, or praying the Creator, asking Him for His intervention to send us some of the much needed rain. What an embarrassment!

TOM photo

Efforts were made to catch every drop and save it as a priceless resource without the help of any financial institution. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier – Times of Malta.

The Lord has always given us rain water for free during the years. He has also given us intelligence. One can see the results of such intelligence in past engineering works with regards to water harvesting. One can find and see the professional management of such a rare natural resource dating back to the times before Christ. Efforts were made to catch every drop and save it as a priceless resource without the help of any financial institution. In fact the

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta photo Keith Buhagiar

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta. photo Keith Buhagiar

Maltese islands are dotted with historical professional engineering projects with the sole aim that not a drop of water is wasted. This has seen the population of these islands go through two world wars without having any problems with water, which the Lord sends us for free.

But in the last 50 years, when we took over the management of our Country, we became affluent, like affluent rats, and we boast about it. This has led us to put a price to everything, and discard natural resources which are given to us for free. We are convinced that we have complete control over the ecosystem. Free assets, such as water, are regarded as having no commercial, economic, social or environmental value, and these can be exploited whenever and however we want to.

Today we live for the day, and exploit everything that we lay our eyes and hands on. Mainly, with endemic political intelligence, we ruined, and are still in the process of doing, whole historical engineering networks which contribute to the storing of such a rare natural resource.

LN-376-of-2012

How the professional management of water was adulterated for political reasons

page-1

Professional legislation with regards to the management and conservation of water was adulterated, to accommodate speculators, with an eye on votes. We lost sight of this natural resource to the extent that official entities, like MEPA, that notorious environmental watchdog, prefers planning to store cars instead of planning to catch and store every drop of the rare resource of free rain water.

In our desperate greed, we contributed to the flooding of inhabited areas where the relatively poor reside, besides neglecting the water table with regards to its replenishment, its conservation, its abuse, and the enforcement of legal protection.

But the endemic political acumen, came out with a solution. This led to the asking for help from the new milking cow. Approximately €57 million were used to dig an underground tunnel so that all the free rain water which we are gifted with, could be swept to the sea. Such a scenario emerged from the uncontrolled development and lack of planning as a result of which water could not seep into the aquifer. A pain in the neck when rain water floods our street because of such mismanagement.

If we made use of the intelligence the Almighty gave us, as our ancestors did, we would have restored all the historic cisterns and wells, build new ones to capture and collect all the water, and not ask school children to catch a drop, and throw millions of gallons out to sea. Imagine if the historic professional water management systems were appreciated, cared for, renovated and kept in a good shape. There would not be any reason to pray for rain. Imagine if large cisterns were built in all the school yards, of which there are so many.

Wouldn’t the €57 million have been well spent and such harvested natural resource be so beneficial in this time of drought? But such common sense was not so common with the planning authority, or else these were regarded as whitebait not palatable and attractive enough to the sharks!

2012.10.00 - works in progress while the appeal keeps being postponed

The cemetery built in Nadur Gozo, disrupted and ruined the natural hydrological system and the professional engineering built by the Knights of Malta.

The religious authorities did not bat an eyelid for such waste of resources either. Not only so, but some had also a finger in the pie in the mismanagement of such a natural scarce resource. With MEPA’s blessing, they chose the largest water catchment area in Gozo where to build a cemetery. Yes, a cemetery consisting of 600 graves for the dead at the expense of the living. An appropriate adequate grave for present day intelligence.

In the process, a historical engineering system, which was used to catch free rain water and harvest it in various cisterns, was ruined. This system used to ensure enough adequate water for agricultural needs of the farmers along Wied il-Qasab during the long hot summer months. But because of such mismanagement and lack of professional planning, today when it rains, not only is the water not collected for agricultural use, it now floods the fields further down the valley. The result of the approved plans, by you know who, which interfered with the flow of water through the geological strata. And the cemetery was blessed too!

eco-1This is why I feel embarrassed to pray for rain. I am surprised at the audacity some have, especially those who believe that they are closer to the Lord than any other. Why should the Lord listen to us when a great percentage of such free rain water would be swept to the sea as unwanted, undesired and useless water. And it also floods agricultural land because of land mismanagement and land abuse. What an embarrassment to man’s intelligence. How shameful!

And in the meantime, despite such a drought, large expanses of turf are still being sprinkled (during the darkness of night) with the Minister for Landscaping’s blessings.

If I had to pen a tentative reply to such prayers, I would say: “Be blessed, go and repent.” And remember that “Water is the driving force of all nature” (Leonardo da Vinci).

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Additional reading:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/dezert-niexef-nixfa-ta-ideat/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/l-immaniggar-tal-ilma-fmalta/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/14/in-nixfa-tax-xitwa-u-s-sigra-tal-lewz/

 https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-nadur-cemetery-%e2%80%93-where-the-dead-will-haunt-and-curse-the-living/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/an-official-water-policy/


A vision buried at Nadur cemetery

April 6, 2013

times

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A vision buried at Nadur cemetery

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The Archpriest of Nadur applied for the development of a cemetery on May 20, 2002. An outline development permit was issued on January 28, 2004 and a full development permit, valid for five years, was granted by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority on May 31, 2007. An appeal was submitted by Nature Trust on July 16, 2007 and works on the cemetery started in summer of that same year.

2012.10.00 - works in progress while the appeal keeps being postponed

Work in progress on the cemetery while the appeal board deliberated

The following documented data was made available to the Appeals Board: The development is in an ODZ (outside development zone).

There never was any public consultation.

EU Water Framework Directive obligations regarding ground water were not taken in consideration.

The locality is designated as an area of high landscape sensitivity and a land of agricultural value according to the Gozo and Comino Local Plan.

Technical staff at Mepa repeatedly recommended a refusal for such development.

Refusal was also recommended by the planning authority’s Heritage Advisory Board.

The proposed cemetery lies within the catchment area of one tributary that feeds Wied Għajn Qasab, one of the most important in Gozo.

This 6,500-square-metre cemetery footprint is on upper coralline limestone (garigue), overlying blue clay that contributes to a perched aquifer covering 5.6 square kilometres, “filtering on a good rainy season 16,000 gallons (73,000 litres) of potable natural water daily at Għajn Qasab springs”.

It is estimated that the recharge of water through percolation or infiltration amounts to 785,109 cubic metres annually.

The water catchment area around the cemetery covers 33,000 square metres.

The rock formation contains various faults, crevices and fissures, which channel rainwater to the farmers’ cisterns.

The fields dependent on the aquifer have been used for agricultural purposes for hundreds of years.

The engineering works regarding water use and storage, including bell shaped wells, galleries, channels and cisterns, date back to the time of the Knights of St John. Such network has been physically destroyed or rendered nearly useless by the cemetery.

The report by the geologist appointed by the developer, indicated that the project is unlikely to have an adverse impact on the water resources.

No hydrologist’s report was ever submitted.

The precautionary principle, a guiding principle in the EPA 2011, was completely ignored. The developer reports that the cemetery plans to cater for 643 graves, despite the fact that only 50 persons die annually in Nadur, some of whom are buried in the old cemetery.

The commercial value of the cemetery’s footprint estimates each grave at €4,000 at the time of the submisison of the appeal in 2007, showing the commercial vision of the project.

A number of letters were officially, personally and publicly written to the Prime Minister and to the minister responsible for the environment.

A number of social entities, farmers and the public expressed disapproval both of this development and of the way it was being handled.

The appeal case was heard and postponed for 19 times and, finally, a decision date was appointed for September 27, 2012, only to be postponed again.

The legal representative of the farming community wrote to the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, emphasising that postponing the decision was jeopardising the interests of the farmers.

A hydrological report by Marco Cremona was eventually presented to the Appeals Tribunal. The study clearly states that there is no doubt about the direct hydraulic connection between the site of the cemetery and the farmers’ water source.

Affidavits by affected farmers show that, before the work on the cemetery, they had enough water for their fields. However, when the works got under way, they had to buy water for their fields and products decreased in quantity and quality.

On March 15, 2013 – the ides of March and six days after the last election – the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal informed the objectors that the original permit dated May 31, 2007 was superseded by another permit dated July 23, 2012, where the applicant presented an amended application to the original permit.

Since there was no appeal to the latter permit, the original one was now exhausted, having been superseded by the latter. Because of this, the tribunal abstained from taking further notice of the appeal.

Mepa’s vision “is to pass onto our children a better country than we inherited. It is for this very reason that we (Mepa) compare our environment to a treasure, something we dedicate our energies to, to protect, care for and improve. The environment encompasses all – nature, cultural and architectural heritage, towns and villages, the countryside, the seas and air. We (Mepa) believe that together we should carefully plan so that our heritage, this gem that we treasure, will not fade away.”

Who can possibly believe this when Mepa buried its vision at the Nadur cemetery?

2009.02.00 - The remains of a protected carob tree

The water catchment area of garigue which replenished the perched aquifer feeding and supplying water to the farming community and the valley ecosystem – BEFORE the approved rape of the ecosystem started.

Was this cemetery, to be run on a time­share basis, really needed in Nadur? Why was the precautionary principle not applied in such a sensitive and delicate ecological area with such a rare natural resource? Why where the above social and ecological negative impacts all cast aside, importance being given only to economic aspects? Was ‘the hand of god’ coerced to give the green light for such an injustice?

Jesus once entered the temple area and drove out all traders and shoppers. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. What would He have done had He found the selling of graves in His name? It is easier to deliver 10 sermons than to live one.

“Our lives end the day we become silent about things that really matter”…“and, in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends” (Martin Luther King).

2009.06.01 water from the acquifer

The murky water feeding the farmers’ cisterns after the work started – definitely not the clear pure potable water they were used to use before.

The dead at Nadur cemetery will haunt and curse the living.

For God’s sake, remove environmental matters from Mepa before the social and ecological fabric of these islands is completely destroyed.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

The original article in The Times, with comments posted by readers, can be seen at the following link:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130406/opinion/A-vision-buried-at-Nadur-cemetery.464394


The time for the green itch

November 5, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The time for the green itch

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Every five years or so there is an itch in the air – a political itch – that intensifies at the eleventh hour. The environment is not immune to this five-year itch. In fact, the last environmental itch centred around an environmental pillar. What a noble idea, I thought! But when the itch subsided, the mass media was inundated with criticism regarding official decisions and actions not exactly having the environmental-pillar base.

These included: the discharge of treated sewage water in the sea, declared as having “no economic value”; mismanagement of Natura 2000 sites, declaring part of Dwejra “to be just bare rocks”, building adjacent to a freshwater stream of EU importance; Buskett saved by the skin of its teeth from being turned into a public garden; planting and covering substantial areas with declared invasive imported species, despite international obligations and recommendations by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority; channelling scarce resource of rainwater along roads to the sea; compliance certificates issued to buildings that do not conform to the legal requirements that each should have a cistern of a capacity of at least three cubic metres for every five square metres of the floor surface of each room; over-extraction of the already precarious groundwater; disbanding the National Sustainable Development Commission; opposing an EU proposal for the listing of the bluefin tuna on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; permitting buildings that make it impossible for neighbours to tap solar energy; negative impact of black dust politically regarded as an alien phenomenon; “cleaning” valleys by bulldozing their ecosystems… Space does not permit me to go on.

The virtual environmental-pillar was knocked out flat by the commercially-driven economic-pillar. It was not strong enough to withstand the official onslaught by those who have a collective responsibility to defend it. The environmental pillar is now dead and buried under commercially-driven decisions, perhaps at Wied il-Qasab Nadur cemetery.

Now it is time for a new itch: the green itch time. A draft National Environment Policy has been published for public consultation. What a noble idea, I think! The draft in hand encompasses legal international environmental concepts and principles, the great majority of which are already transposed in national legislation. These are juxtaposed in a colourful mosaic but, unfortunately, like all mosaics, hairline cracks abound, which, with some political acumen, can easily develop into loopholes. Some are already evident.

Such an essential document does not even have definitions of important concepts like “sustainable development”, “environment” or “precautionary principle”. International environmental legal obligations all have such definitions but do the political players have the same definitions in mind?

Some important concepts have also been mishandled. Can an environment policy disregard biodiversity as a resource? I cannot image that such omission is meant to cover the government’s stand against the listing of the bluefin tuna, an endangered international natural resource! The draft NEP lists a number of measures, all of which can definitely contribute to the sustainable use of the environment, though one comment betrays an inferiority complex.

Besides, a number of measures cannot be implemented within this legislature. Considering that some could be sitting on different seats, not necessarily of a different colour, following a musical chairs festival, one cannot exclude the possibility that such a policy will not necessarily be handled with care. The more so when some colleagues in the corridors of power do ignore national environment legislation, published over the signature of the Prime Minister himself. And the competent authority responsible for environment legislation habitually stands and stares, licking its wounds and cursing its impotency to take action.

I do, however, admire the tenacity and drive of Environment Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco but I cannot help feel that he is a lonely voice in a political wilderness, abandoned even by his environmental watchdog. A few days ago, another colourful environment document metamorphosed. This spelled guidelines for controlling alien species. A much-needed effort, though it retrospectively tackles negative economic, social and ecological impacts of introduced alien species and does not address the cause. They seem more like guidelines on how to control horses that have bolted after housing them in stables without doors.

This is why I have become very allergic to nicely-coloured printed documents that undoubtedly are attractive to the illiterate. Could be because I have not yet recovered from the decision to disband the National Sustainable Development Commission, flavoured by the now popular political dictum that one should not be judged by what one says but by what one does. These do not help at all to dispel any of my fears.

The eleventh hour is nigh. When the clock strikes one, will the environment policy slowly, silently, diplomatically, slide down in repose on the shelves of history, like the National Sustainable Development Commission did after all? National environmental legislation has been brushed aside; an environmental-pillar has been laid to rest; why not a policy? I am wishing, hoping and praying that I am wrong but I fear that Greenwich time will prove me right.