The Gozo tunnel: the destruction of Northern Malta too – Arnold Cassola & Luke Caruana

The Gozo entrance to the proposed tunnel will be somewhere below the Ta’ Kenuna area in Nadur, a prime agricultural and scenic site. Where exactly, no-one knows since everything is shrouded in secrecy. 

As regards the Malta entrance, we also have this veil of secrecy. However, the site of L-imbordin has been bandied about. This rich agricultural land is situated in the Manikata-Xemxija area, where Malta’s richest water table is to be found.

In reality, recent activity over the past two years seems to indicate that the proposed entrance to the tunnel in Malta is more likely to be in the L-Gherien area, an area renowned for the rich archeological finds linked to the cave-dwelling troglodyte community that had made the area its permanent abode in the past. 

Archeologist Keith Buhagiar describes the  L-Gherien-Imbordin-Manikata area in the following way: “The proposed location for the Malta-side portal to Gozo is the hamlet of L-Imbordin close to Manikata. The excavation of the tunnel entrance at this point will not only ruin another relatively unspoilt stretch of what is left of Malta’s countryside but will destroy troglodyte dwellings dating to the late medieval period, fertile agricultural land and other archaeological culturally-relevant remains. 

A proper scientific assessment of the cultural remains that will be destroyed or adversely affected by this development is still a work in progress. The Malta-side portal will tunnel through Malta’s only relatively uncontaminated perched aquifer. Has this been taken into consideration? Locating the tunnel at L-Imbordin will lead to road widening works, causing havoc to the Pwales valley area. 

Pwales and its neighbouring localities contain the remains of pre-Knights period agricultural estates technically known as “viridaria” or “giardini” most of which received their fresh water from subterranean man-excavated water galleries and which used to provide these areas with a perennial water supply. 

Furthermore, Pwales valley was extensively utilised for agriculture during the British period and still contains a surprising density of small masonry-built huts containing diesel operated water pumps which used to lift water from the underlying Pwales aquifer. Should road widening works take place, many of these will perish for the sake of development”. 

Added to all this, we know that the flow of traffic will increase so much that it will receive at least about 6500 vehicles per day. Does this land risk becoming a polluted desert from the rich green plain that it is now?

Why do we believe that government is “secretly” planning the Malta entrance in the L-Gherien area? Well, to start off, in July-August 2017, three young lads -two females and a male- were suspiciously roaming around the area, once, twice, three, four times, searching for something one does not know exactly what.

Two months later, in October-November 2017, we had the real thing. Workers from the Italian company Geotec Spa assembled a rig in the area and for three whole weeks conducted works to test the ground in the area. Geotec has been drilling exploratory boreholes offshore Malta. But in October-November 2017, it was there in the public areas of L-Gherien conducting surveys. What was the nature of these surveys? Seismic? Geognostic? Geotechnical? We don’t know because the government has not released any report.

In July 2018 we got the first newspaper reports that the Malta entrance would be located in the Imbordin area. In the same period, a team of Maltese archeologists were documenting the area with the aim of protecting the historical remains there.

At the end of September 2018, Geotec returned to the L-Gherien area for surveillance studies. This time, however, they did not limit their surveys just to the public areas. They also entered private properties to conduct their studies there too. Drones were also used in the course of this three day survey. Why were these drones used? What were the results of these surveys?

Two months later, in September 2018, the terms of reference for an Environmental Impact Assessment were finalized by ERA. Last 11 December, One news reported Minister Borg as stating that preparations were being made at the moment for an Environmental Impact Assessment. Is this study, therefore, just about to start?

On 26th November 2018, new actors get involved in the “mysterious|” surveys going on in L-Gherien. Enter the scene the Norwegian company Sintef, that describes itself as “one of Europe’s largest independent research organisations. Every year we carry out several thousand projects for customers large and small. Our 2000 employees deliver applied research, innovation, technology development, knowledge and solutions for customers large and small across the world”.

For four whole days Sintef conducted surveillance works, even making use of drones. The interesting thing about this company is that for the whole four days, while conducting their studies in these isolated fields, they were always escorted by a uniformed police officer. Was the officer really needed, in an area where hardly any car passes by? And what kind of work was Sintef really involved in? We believe that the Maltese people should be entitled to know, no?

At the beginning of December 2018 at least one farmer in the area of L-Gherien was approached by an individual who informed the farmer that his land could be requisitioned for purposes of tunnel building. The name of the farmer is known to us.

This is the situation as it stands at the moment, with information gathered in bits and pieces. Seeing that the government has not published any geological, economic, environmental or social studies regarding the whole issue, we believe it is useful to start informing the Maltese and the Gozitans on what has been happening till now without our knowledge.

Three quick questions that come to mind are: Is the government prepared to destroy this area in Malta, which constitutes the richest water table in our country? And does the Maltese government intend inserting the Malta-Gozo tunnel project in the 9000 kms European trade route from Finland to Malta, without even publishing the preliminary reports for discussion?  Is  land reclamation the true and main focus of this government, with the tunnel being just an excuse to produce the raw materials to implement this megalomaniac project? 

Quick answers are expected from a government that does not want to treat its citizens as irrelevant morons.

Arnold Cassola
AD candidate for MEP Elections

Luke Caruana
AD candidate for Mellieħa Local Council

Published on the Maltatoday – Sunday 30 December 2018