[WATCH] Land reclamation map 'only indicative', says ERA official

ERA director refuses to single out particular zone identified for land reclamation

ERA Director, Michelle Piccinino
ERA Director, Michelle Piccinino

The designation of a stretch of coastline between Portomaso and Xghajra for “large scale” land reclamation is only “indicative”, according to Michelle Piccinino, director of the Environment and Resources Authority.  

“The map being circulated is indicative and is simply meant as a starting point…  Further down the line we may even restrict these sea areas further,” Piccinino told MaltaToday.

On Sunday MaltaToday had published a map showing that a selection exercise by the ERA had identified an area extending between Xghajra and Portomaso in St Julian’s, which includes waters off Sliema, Valletta and Cottonera including the Grand Harbour, for land reclamation.

ERA’s environment director Michelle Piccinino still refused to single out a particular zone identified for land reclamation insisting that while the entire stretch of southern coastline had to be excluded due to the nature of the terrain,  the “whole area between Marsaxlokk and the north of Gozo” is more  suitable for land reclamation.

But when asked about the sites designated in the map, included in the ERA presentation seen by MaltaToday, she pointed out that it is clear that even this area includes sites like the Grand Harbour which although included cannot be reclaimed.

“When such an exercise is made, the sites are only indicative. For example although the Grand Harbour forms part of the site identified for reclamation, nobody would dream of reclaiming the port which has an intrinsic cultural value. These areas are merely indicative.  Eventually, down the process we may limit these areas further.”

When asked specifically on the Portomaso site which is known to harbour posidonia meadows to the extent that in the 1990s the PA had fined Portomaso’s developers Lm50,000 (€120,000) for destroying posidonia meadows following excavations for their yacht marina, Piccinino insisted on the indicative nature of the map.

READ ALSO: Environment a priority in identifying land reclamation sites, ministry says

She also acknowledged that some areas deemed suitable for reclamation may include protected habitats and that these areas need to be further analysed while noting that marine habitats may also experience changes over time.

What is sure so far is that the whole stretch of southern coastline between Marsaxlokk and Mellieha has been excluded both because it has a higher terrain over the sea level and also because it is richer in marine habitats.

Piccinino welcomed the fact that on this occasion the starting point for the site selection process was based on environmental considerations.
“ERA analysed the whole of the Maltese coast to identify those sites which could be suitable for land reclamation. The idea behind these studies was to limit any land reclamation to sites which are acceptable from an environmental point of view”.

Asked whether there is a risk that land reclamation will fuel a greater demand for construction waste instead of encouraging reduction and recycling of this waste, Piccinino replied that the creation of construction waste is mostly fuelled by economic factors.

“We will be short-sighted if we opt for land reclamation simply to take short cuts or to generate even more waste. But we should look at it as a way of making a better use of the resource we are generating. We should be asking what is the best way to use this resource?”

She also refers to the spoilt ground off Xghajra where construction waste has been deposited since colonial times. While noting that ERA already does not permit the indiscriminate dumping of waste in this area, she asks, “Would it not be better to utilise this resource better than simply dumping it in the sea…We should look at land reclamation as an opportunity?”

She also confirmed that quarries which are take the majority of construction waste are nearing exhaustion and therefore the country has to find ways of addressing this problem.

Piccinino did not exclude the use of reclaimed land for real estate development when asked whether land reclamation should be limited to recreational open spaces and the creation of new natural habitats.

“Yes there may be zones where nothing but open spaces can be created but definitely there is room for a certain amount of development”.

Apart from the area between Xghajra and Portomaso, the ERA presentation also identified other areas along the Maltese coast for small and medium sized reclamation projects. These include the Mgarr harbour in Gozo which had been identified for a cruise liner terminal, Qalet Marku in Bahar ic-Caghaq, St Paul’s Bay, Marsaxlokk and an area off Xghajra already utilised for the dumping of construction waste.

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