[WATCH] Mellieha farmers fear fireworks ‘time-bomb’

Farmers in Tal-Ghajn up in arms against a proposed fireworks factory in the area

Farmers up in arms over planned fireworks factory in Mellieha

Farmers in the area known as Tal-Ghajn in Mellieha have expressed their fears to MaltaToday over an impending Appeals Board decision on fireworks factories, that were rejected by the MEPA board back in 2010.

Farmers in Tal-Ghajn, which is in the vicinity of Popeye Village in Mellieha, are up in arms against a proposed fireworks factory in the area, which was already rejected in 2010. Feast enthusiasts have appealed the rejection, and a decision is imminent.

The main preoccupation of the farmers is their personal safety.

“For us this is nothing but a time bomb waiting to explode,” one farmer told MaltaToday.

“We love the Bambina and we have nothing against fireworks. But we are sure that She does not want anyone to die in her feast,” full-time farmer Philip Cini said.

Another farmer recalled how 10 years ago, she was walking to her farm to pick marrows when she witnessed the effects of an explosion from the illegal manufacture of fireworks in the area, which blew pieces of a room’s roof next to a reservoir and a borehole used by the farmers.

The farmers insist that they have nothing against a new fireworks factory but only if this is built way away from them and not just a few metres from where they have their farmland.

The farmers expressed concern on promises made to fireworks enthusiasts by both political parties, and have been frustrated by the fact that they are not recognised as registered objectors by MEPA, and that the site notice was put on the wall of an inaccessible farm room.

“We only learned of the application presented in 2009 when it was too late to object, and therefore we are not even informed of appeal proceedings.”

Despite not being registered as objectors, a petition signed by 30 farmers was presented to the appeals board in 2012. The farmers rejected any suggestion that the danger can be mitigated by repositioning the rooms, insisting that the danger can only be removed if the factory is not allowed to be built.

They also warned that development could destroy parts of the watercourses that absorb rainwater in the area. “We’re afraid that the factory may be approved under a new policy regulating fireworks factories, which allows the development of the factories outside development zones,” they said.

The new policy only forbids fireworks factories on Level 1 and Level 2 Areas of Ecological Importance, but allows such development in buffer zones to these areas. The area in question has been on a waiting list for scheduling as a Level 2 Area of Ecological Importance for years, but a decision has still not been taken.

The policy also forbids development on good quality agricultural land but the land earmarked for the development is not agricultural. The landscape of the area is dominated by vegetation and communities typical of garigue and steppe habitat.

The application dates back to 2009, only a year after MEPA issued an enforcement order against seven illegal rooms and “the use of fireworks without a permit” on the same site. The application was presented by the Ghaqda Nar Maria Bambina, whose secretary, Joe Aquilina, insisted that Mellieha needs a fireworks factory because it is one of the few localities without such a facility.

The application presented to MEPA acknowledges that the site has already been used for the production of fireworks despite the absence of a MEPA permit. In fact the application seeks to “sanction the manufacture of fireworks within agricultural premises”.

Back in 2011 the Explosives Committee, made up of representatives from the Arm¬ed Forces of Malta, Police and Civil Protection, found no objection to this proposal. The committee simply decreed that the site was suited to the purpose of constructing a fireworks factory.

But MEPA’s Environment Protection Directorate had strongly objected, insisting that the use of the site for the manufacture of fireworks was questionable in view of its being in conflict with existing and approved agricultural uses.

“A fireworks manufacturing site has specific needs in terms of infrastructure requirements, such as adequate access to accommodate fire-fighting vehicles, water storage, etc, as well as creating an increase in vehicle movements due to import of and export of raw materials and products from the site respectively,” the EPD argued.

Approval would create a precedent for other illegal development, it added. “Whilst noting that these are not reflected in the submitted plans, EPD notes that the infrastructural requirements will further the conflict of the proposed uses with the existing approved uses due to further uptake of land and increased risks which cannot be accepted.”

The EPD had also warned that the development would impinge on the rocky karstland’s habitat and garigue’s species. “The EPD objects to the proposed development since it shall lead to the loss of a large stretch of garigue habitat which runs counter to Structure Plan.

“Considering the overriding need to protect the karstic features on site, the proposed development is deem¬ed objectionable and unjustified since its acceptance shall jeopardise the environmental conservation objectives that seek to safeguard and protect this ecological habitat.”

The development was also expected to affect two watercourses, sealing the directorate’s stand that the impact of this development on the valley is not acceptable. An objection from the Department of Agriculture was received by MEPA on the grounds that agricultural structures are to be retained for their original purpose. The department said that rather than rewarding contraveners with sanctioning, any disturbance to the site by the developer should be removed

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