Gozo tunnel must be submitted to SEA impact study, NGOs warn

‘Discussion on Gozo tunnel has not even begun’, NGO coalition says, calling for Strategic Environment Assessment on €300 million project that will devastate Maltese and Gozitan environment

Julia Camilleri, a Gozo resident, addressed the NGO coalition's press conference on the effects of the Gozo tunnel
Julia Camilleri, a Gozo resident, addressed the NGO coalition's press conference on the effects of the Gozo tunnel

Eight environmental NGOs have called for a wide-ranging study, the Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA), for the Gozo tunnel before even proceeding with further plans.

The SEA is a legal obligation for any plan by government likely to have a significant effect on the environment, to predict environmental impacts, evaluating reasonable alternatives and mitigation measures.

“It is only after the necessary studies are concluded and published that a meaningful discussion on the Malta-Gozo tunnel can begin,” said Ramblers Association spokesperson Ingram Bondin.

The studies would include analyses of the increase in traffic, journey times, alternatives for a fast-ferry service, financial costs, and the impact on society, economy, environment and infrastructure.

 “At this stage, we have nothing that shows that the tunnel will effectively address mobility challenges, and that its social, economic and environmental impacts will be sustainable… whilst fully acknowledging the need to address mobility challenges experienced by Gozitan workers and students, we express our disagreement with declarations that the discussion about the Malta-Gozo tunnel is closed and that we are now at an ‘implementation stage’,” Bondin said.

The tunnel project enjoys the support of both sides of the Maltese parliament, and talks are being led by former Labour MP Franco Mercieca, who claimed the debate over the need for the tunnel was over.

“The discussion has not even begun,” Bondin said today outside the House of Representatives, where he was joined by Friends of the Earth, Flimkien ghal-Ambjent Ahjar, the Ramblers Association, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Moviment Graffitti, Isles Of The Left and Zminijietna. Also in attendance were members of the Green Party, Alternattiva Demokratika and independent MEP candidate Arnold Cassola.

“There is currently a total lack of studies and information on the utility and impacts of the tunnel. Indeed, it has not even been established whether a tunnel will actually facilitate mobility between the two islands.”

A project description statement for the €300 million tunnel project so far proposes a relatively narrow tunnel with one lane in each direction. With over 9,000 cars passing daily through the tunnel, the possibility of queuing remains, leading to doubts as to whether the tunnel will even reduce the average journey times between Malta and Gozo.

The tunnel will only lead to the northern part of the Maltese island, with Gozitans having to then travel all the way to their place of work or study, possibly encountering increased traffic jams along the way.

“A fast-ferry service might address this in ways that the tunnel cannot. The best solution for improving the connectivity between the two islands can only be determined through studies that consider and compare all possible options,” Bondin said.

Government subsidies will probably be inevitable to finance the construction and maintenance of the project to keep road tolls affordable, Bondin added.

He also said a SEA had to study the impact of the tunnel on Gozitan society and the environment, as well as the take-up of arable and natural land for the tunnel’s two entrances, ancillary roads, the unprecedented volume of one million cubic metres of waste generated from the tunnelling, and devastation to uncontaminated aquifer at Mizieb and l-Imbordin, which has provided water for the Pwales valley for millennia. The Pwales aquifer at present yields about six million cubic metres of water per annum.

The l-Imbordin area also contains natural cave dwellings dating to a pre-Knights period, known for its Knights’ period ‘giardini’, which will also be excavated for the tunnel entrance and its infrastructure.

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