Life of quarries near Megalithic temples ‘extended’ with mobile crusher

Mobile crusher will compact construction waste and prolong eyesore’s lifespan

A permit for a mobile crusher to compact construction waste used to fill a decommissioned quarry will prolong the lifespan of the eyesore, situated just 400 metres away from the UNESCO world heritage sites of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra.

The quarry was decommissioned in 1994, but the ‘backfilling’ of the site will eventually eliminate the eyesore in the vicinity of the megalithic temples.

All quarries where backfilling operations are allowed require an environmental permit issued by the Environment and Resources Authority.

No quarry operations are allowed in the one-kilometre radius around the temples and the ERA has insisted that the permit for crushing stone in the quarry is limited to its use in backfilling the existing void. 

The ERA has defended issuing the permit, insisting that the crusher “is only allowed on-site as a means to reduce the size of stones accepted at this quarry specifically for the restoration of the quarry.”

According to ERA the compaction of the construction waste is important for the site as it allows more volume to be backfilled when compared to the traditional dumping methods. ERA also said that crushing stones is beneficial to the environment.

“This method is conducive to the proper restoration of an excavation void in that there would be less subsidence in the after-closure period. It is pertinent to note that environmentally, it is more sensible to have proper backfilling which is stable”.

While the backfilling of this particular quarry will have a positive impact on the environment and historical landscape, the use of a crusher will prolong the industrial operation of the quarry in the vicinity of the temples – raising the question whether backfilling the quarry in shorter period of time made more sense than compacting the waste, due to the proximity to the cultural monuments.

The permit was approved on 6 July three days after the request was filed by Silvan Fenech, on behalf of Tum Invest. It normally takes ERA weeks or even months to issue similar permits, a case in point being the seven months it took the ERA to issue a permit for the backfilling of a quarry in Mqabba.

The permit in question is valid for one year but can be renewed if an application is presented three months before the expiry of the permit.

The ERA also recently amended a permit to the adjacent quarry by Vella Bros and Sons to allow a similar crusher in their quarry. 

Backfilling in less sensitive sites do not foresee the use of crushers, which naturally offer quarry owners more profit for more volume.

Informed sources described this case as a double-edged sword: one expert said Malta’s construction waste emergency means it makes sense to prolong the life of quarries, with all the construction taking place across the island. “And maximizing the use of quarries could make even more environmentally questionable solutions like land reclamation imminent.”

At the same time the sensitive location of this particular quarry “should have been noted by ERA” – at least prompting it to seek the advice from the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage and UNESCO before allowing “long-term industrial activity” on the site. 

The ERA was silent when asked by MaltaToday whether the SCH or UNESCO had been informed of the permit.

No reply was forthcoming from SCH to questions sent by MaltaToday for its reaction to the permit approval. UNESCO has been notified of the permit by MaltaToday. 
MaltaToday has also asked the ERA whether it was investigating any rock excavations on the site which are not foreseen in the permit. ERA confirmed that investigations it carried out in the past days provided “no clear evidence of ongoing excavation works.”

With construction in full swing, Malta could end up facing a waste emergency: in June the ERA granted environmental permits to allow 10 quarries in the limits of Mqabba, Siggiewi and Iklin to accept inert construction and demolition waste for disposal.

A year ago, the Malta Developers’ Association argued that quarry owners should be given short-term fiscal incentives for accepting construction waste.

At the time, Environment Minister Jose Herrera had warned that the government would issue a legal notice to requisition the quarry volume for construction waste – for which quarry owners will be compensated, adding that the ERA would suspend the licences of those who refused to accept construction waste without a valid reason. The threat was repeated by Herrera last month, prompting protests from the MDA.

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