Friday, 19 November 2010

Our Countryside – Parks or Illegal Dumps?

The NGOs Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth, Gaia Foundation, Greenhouse, NatureTrust and Ramblers Association are concerned that in spite of the official message being given that the countryside is being protected, in fact many areas in Malta and Gozo are increasingly coming under attack.

In Gozo, illegal dumping has been taking place at Ta' Muxi, near Qala, affecting an area of nearly 70,000m² or 60 tumuli, as can be seen on Youtube.

Most of this dumping has occurred in an area of great geological interest and scenic beauty, proposed as a geological park. MEPA itself states: “Active conservation measures are required to protect the geology and landforms of Malta as an important and irreplaceable scientific, educational, cultural, aesthetic and potentially economic resource. If irreparable damage or loss was to occur then it is our own society that would be impoverished.”

Farmers who deposit soil without a permit on fields lacking soil are subjected to the full force of MEPA regulations. At Ta' Muxi, the ongoing removal of topsoil to cover illegal dumping of construction waste on virgin land has been ignored in spite of reports.
If construction waste is used as infill on a building project, MEPA immediately clamps down. At Ta' Muxi, construction waste has been dumped illegally and systematically with no action taken against the perpetrators. Furthermore, the Ta’ Muxi quarry operators have been using an illegal road to dump abusively for years. Yet MEPA expects us to believe that its officers are keeping a watchful eye on Gozo?

While the NGOs support the steep increase on tax for rubble waste in line with the polluter pays principle, this needed to be accompanied by enforcement, as now many are dumping in the countryside to avoid tax. The NGOs ask where the Green Wardens’ priorities lie as they only seem interested in fining litterers, while ignoring heavy dumping in the countryside.

The Ta’ Muxi quarry owners have violated several of the conditions of their permit, including failure to use the alternative route as stipulated in the permit and not preventing dumping by unauthorised persons. This quarry has failed to pay the sum of Lm2000 due annually since 1998 to Qala Council to cover road and water pipe damages as a result of the quarrying.

In the face of repeated protests, until recently top MEPA authorities were insisted that the quarry owners were acting within their permit. Then, some three weeks ago Mepa backtracked and admitted that violations of permit conditions had taken place

The Ta’ Muxi quarry is now applying for the renewal of its quarry permit. According to Legal Notice 337, when processing or renewing a permit, MEPA is to consider the impact of the proposed activity on the environment and to assess the applicants’ suitability based on their track record of legality.

At Wied Għajn Zejtuna in Mellieha, MEPA’s upgrading of the scheduling of the watercourse has in fact massively reduced the size of the protected area, allowing development to encroach closer to the watercourse, endangering the ‘qabru’ (fresh-water crab) and aggravating flooding in the area.

At Bengħisa a vast area of fields, protected carobs and dry stone walls is earmarked to create warehousing for the Freeport in spite of the existence of such facilities at nearby Hal Far.

At Ħaz-Zebbug developers have abusively uprooted a great many trees without the necessary permits. In the meantime Ramla Bay and Wied il-Għasel remain imperiled due to their ongoing MEPA Appeals.

These examples of environmental neglect and mismanagement all over Malta and Gozo, culminating in the Dwejra debacle, show that MEPA lacks the will to prevent the encroachment of our countryside and the further destruction of Malta and Gozo's natural beauty. As such MEPA officials responsible for this state of affairs should be held accountable and step down.

Published on Times of Malta and Gozo News

Follow up to the PR by MEPA: Mepa acts over dumping near Qala

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