Gozo tunnel may increase pressure for land reclamation

With 1 million tonnes of waste generated from the Gozo tunnel, land reclamation could well be the next step for Malta

There is concern among environmentalists that the Gozo tunnel – coupled with other infrastructural projects which include tunnels – may now make land reclamation projects inevitable.
There is concern among environmentalists that the Gozo tunnel – coupled with other infrastructural projects which include tunnels – may now make land reclamation projects inevitable.

The generation of one million tonnes of waste for the construction of the Gozo tunnel proposal is set to aggravate Malta’s limited space to take in waste, a move that will likely lead to greater pressure for land reclamation.

The Environment and Resources Authority has warned in a report listing the threats posed by the construction of the tunnel that the creation of the waste will “exacerbate pressure for high-impact disposal on the seabed”, and demanded a further assessment in the Environmental Impact Assessment.

The ERA is presently drawing up the terms of reference for an EIA for the tunnel project which will have to address these concerns.

The generation of the large volume of rock waste was considered “very substantial” especially in view of the short time-frame in which the excavated material would need to be managed.

In the eventuality that the tunnel-boring technique would involve blasting, such works would generate additional types waste due to the use of explosives.

This reflects concern among environmentalists that the Gozo tunnel – coupled with other infrastructural projects which include tunnels – may now make land reclamation projects inevitable.

 

Tunnel to pass under Ghadira nature reserve

But construction waste is not the only environmental challenge posed by the Gozo tunnel.

The ERA is calling for studies on the impact of the tunnel on inland water bodies like the Ghadira and is-Simar reserves.

Another option of locating the tunnel entrance in the Marfa ridge was discarded because of its closer proximity to the nature reserve.

But the proposed tunnel will still be excavated underneath the Ghadira reserve and major road cuttings are also envisaged to take place behind the hinterland of the Simar reserve.

“It is unclear whether the excavation and construction of the tunnel may impact the protected inland water bodies at l-Ghadira and Is-Simar, which in its turn may affect  protected habitats and species,” ERA said.

Furthermore, the tunnel will pass through underground aquifers, which according to ERA constitute important natural capital of the Maltese Islands.

Impact on Pwales valley

One sure impact is the change in the landscape created by the proposed tunnel entrances which “are likely to be highly visible and may affect the sensitive visual amenity of the area”, the ERA said.

The tunnel will include an entrance in Malta at L-Imbordin, between Manikata and the Pwales valley, and emerge in Gozo at the ridge just below the Kenuna Tower, south of Nadur.

According to ERA the construction of the proposed tunnel portals and its ancillary connections to the existing or realigned road network, is likely to be significant in terms of land use.

The high level of traffic flows envisaged to pass through the tunnel may also result in higher noise levels in the rural areas and the nature reserves.

The ERA is also calling for an assessment of underwater noise, both during the construction and the operational phase as this may impact on marine life.

The impact on these pristine localities is expected to be severe in the construction phase which would see the erection of “a highly visible construction site” which will include the machinery required for the “extensive excavation and construction works”.

The setting up of queuing areas or car parks could also result in additional visual impacts, ERA warns.

The excavation works may also potentially have an impact on the caves in the escarpment at L-Arġentier, which have cultural heritage significance.

Pressure on road network

The proposed development is likely to generate increased traffic flows in Gozo and therefore increasing pressures on the present road network.

According to ERA the Gozo-bound traffic is likely to shift towards Mgarr, Ghajn Tuffieha and Manikata roads, which are already subject to congestion during the weekend.

On the other hand, a reduction in traffic (especially Gozo-bound traffic) is likely, translating into a minimisation of existing impacts and pressures, at Xemxija, l-Imbordin, Mellieha and Ghadira.

Further investigation is also needed on the possibility of seismic activity in the area, which could pose potential risks on the tunnel itself.

This is because active faults in the channel between Gozo and Comino may be present and these could cause difficulties for the tunnel construction.

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