Letter Sent to EU Commission - 27 March 2007
Sent 27 March, 2007 to EU Commission
By Barbara Bode
Dear Mr. Garcia-Burgues
It's good to hear that a delegation from the EU will be coming to Malta this week to learn the facts about some of our gravest environmental concerns and to understand the position of the Maltese government on these issues.
As a foreign journalist living in Gozo, I'm writing in the hope that the delegation will come to inspect our island as well. The two islands are quite different; although some developers and contractors seem to want make them more alike by covering Gozo with more concrete and with towering buildings of flats as well.
Ramla Valley, Beach & Bay threatened from Xaghra
Ramla l-Hamra is an example of Gozo's unique features due to its virtually unspoiled valley and its red sand beach, the site of sand dunes which are unique to the Maltese islands, supporting an indigenous eco-system not found elsewhere. The area is so sensitive that it is currently listed as a protected area under a UNESCO project and is also a candidate for Natura 2000 designation.
Not only is the natural beauty of the area protected but the old Ulysses Lodge covers part of the site of an old Roman villa about which Fr. Charles Cini , a local historian, has written extensively in an attempt to get the government to excavate and preserve it. New roads will have to be built to reach it and one plan is to substitute the old Roman Road with a new one. Yet, apparently approval has not been sought from Public Works or the Museums Department.
No public statements from the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage have been issued calling for careful excavation to preserve the archaeological importance of this site after the lodge is torn down.
I knew that previous attempts in recent years to re-develop the old Ulysses Lodge had been denied by MEPA because of the sensitive nature of the area. I assumed MEPA would continue to deny these applications. In Spring last year, however, a full development application was approved to demolish the old Lodge and expand the footprint by enormous proportions.
Why hasn't there been public outrage? First of all, few people know of the case and only a few old farmers live in the vicinity. Second, it was not taken up by the local planning section and even some MEPA Board members appear to have been kept in the dark.
Moreover, there should be no need for such a huge tourist center. Marsalforn, the next village to the north, with its own much larger bay, is already a busy, commercialized tourist center where plans are underway to build three other 14 storey towers. Tourism arrivals are down and the towers there are to be built on the site of a hotel that recently closed for lack of business. How many more towers and centers can a tiny island sustain?
Ramla Valley, Beach & Bay besieged from Nadur
From the other side of Ramla Bay, the valley leading down to the beach and bay is also under attack. After two refusals, the parish of Nadur recently received MEPA approval to build a 600 grave (1700 corpse) modernistic super-cemetery above the Ramla valley's fertile spring fed farmland.
There, for hundreds of years, farmers have been tending citrus groves of about 5,000 trees yielding 150 tons of fruit a year. The cemetery puts their fruit at strong risk of being contaminated by runoff water.
The farmer's concern is not an exaggerated one. The current cemetery in Nadur -- which is not yet full -- contaminated its surroundings with runoff water early on and, unlike this site with its water table only one foot underground, the water table there is much deeper.
But was an Environmental Impact Assessment undertaken? No. The only information MEPA received were quick reports from the Malta Resources Authority and the Department of Agriculture. It should be noted that although Malta’s EIA regulations do not specifically mention cemeteries, a mere extension to a cemetery in an industrial part of Malta was required to prepare an EIA , so why not a whole new cemetery in an area identified as being of outstanding beauty and ecological sensitivity?
The farmers have sued; have petitioned the Curia; have petitioned the Bishop of Gozo; all to no avail as they did not even receive an acknowledgement.
MEPA claims that the cemetery can be waterproofed with a concrete bed to run for a length of 100 metres. The question is, how long will that last without leaking? Concrete cracks, the farmers note.
And where will the contaminated runoff water go, after flowing through the citrus groves? Right down through the beach and into Ramla Bay, polluting it irrevocably.
Why is all of this destruction being approved and why are all these developments suddenly being proposed on tiny Gozo? A Gozitan priest recently said "a lot of money is changing hands, a lot of money."
When Malta joined the EU we all knew that there would be new laws, new directives and new rules to follow. It's as though those in power are racing through before they get caught. I hope the fact -finding mission will enable the delegation to educate the powers that be that the EU laws and directives now need to be followed.
Thank you for your attention.
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