09 July 2003

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Ghallis chosen for engineered landfill

- two quarries will take municipal waste until landfill is up and running

By Matthew Vella
The site known as l-Ghallis ta’ Gewwa has been chosen by the Ministry for Resources and Infrastructure as the site for Malta’s first engineered landfill.
The landfill, which still has to face an Environmental Impact Assessment, was chosen instead of the other frontrunner, a site at Benghisa. The Ghallis landfill will, however, involve the excavation of good quality hardstone and will not be ready to accept waste when Malta joins the EU on May 1 2004.
The waste dumps at Maghtab and Qortin are expected to be closed prior to Malta’s entry in the EU and, in what is a major deviation from Malta’s approved waste management strategy, two quarries will be turned into engineered landfills until the one at Ghallis is ready to accept waste.
An area of 291,000 square metres – the size of approximately 32 football pitches - in the inner Ghallis region is expected to be turned into an EU-compliant landfill, the first cell of which will be ready within two and a half years after works commence.

By the time the temporary landfills are ready the Maghtab dump will have to be closed to municipal waste. The bulk of Maghtab’s waste intake, construction waste (80 percent), is already being dumped in another quarry.
Zammit said the Ghallis landfill will be excavated in four stages. A total of 3.5 million cubic metres will be excavated.
The two temporary landfills will be two quarries in the island’s south, known as tal-Maghlaq and Qasam il-Kbir, both close to Ghar Lapsi and Mnajdra, to take municipal waste until the Ghallis landfill can be used.
To prevent further negative environmental effects, the quarries, which were closed in the nineties, will be coated with membranes in order to prevent leachates (waste residue from rainfall). The quarries are not situated over the water aquifers, but the membranes will mean added insurance that will prevent damage to the aquifer system.
All hazardous waste will be taken to Ghallis from May 2004, and will not go to the temporary landfills.
The two quarries, one privately-owned, the other a 50-50 public-private ownership, will be regularly monitored by Wasteserv officials, the state company recently set up to assist with the government’s waste management strategy.
At the end of their operation, when the Ghallis landfill starts functioning, Zammit said the quarries would be rehabilitated for agricultural purposes, forestation and other uses.
In the meantime, all hazardous waste will be taken to the hazardous waste station which will be situated at Ghallis. From May 1 2004 onwards, the rehabilitation of Maghtab Ta’Fulija and Qortin (Gozo) landfills will commence.
A project description statement has been prepared for the two temporary landfills which will be presented to the Malta Environmental & Planning Authority, prior to the preparation of an environment impact statement.
By 2006, composting, waste separation and a material recover facility should also be in place as part of the waste strategy.
Zammit also said the Ministry was in the process of creating a committee that will investigate the implementation of a ‘producer-pays-principle,’ in which polluting entities will have to compensate for directly-produced pollution.
Environment group Friends of the Earth (Malta) said the decision opened up more questions than it had closed answers. "It remains unclear whether Malta will be able to have a proper EU-compliant landfill by May 2004 when waste separation at source lags so far behind. Taking mixed waste to an EU-compliant engineered landfill does not sound like the best way forward.
"FOE would like to see government making a large investment in waste separation efforts so that by May 2004 all waste going to landfill will be separated. It would make sense to upgrade the Sant’ Antnin composting plant and at least have as much biodegradable waste going there as possible, so that Malta can comply with the EU Landfill Directive. The idea that we have to have temporary landfills shows that the authorities have not been able to stick to Malta’s waste management strategy and does not augur well for meeting other deadlines in the future."
Why Ghallis was chosen
Resources and Infrastructure Minister Ninu Zammit said Ghallis was chosen following detailed studies by foreign experts, amongst them foreign companies SLR and Scott Wilson. Ministry experts also approved Ghallis after scientific analyses.
Since 1996, discussions between the then-Planning Authority and the Environment Protection Department had resulted in a document earmarking 10 sites for the siting of the engineered landfill. By the end of 2002, the list was whittled down to two, Benghisa and Ghallis.
Amongst considerations between the two, the significant plusses for Ghallis were that the surrounding landscape was already affected by neighbouring Maghtab landfill, a moderate reductions in travel levels was expected and there was also good access to the site.
Additionally, 29.6 hectares of low to moderate value agricultural land as opposed to Benghisa’s 56 hectares of moderate value land will be affected. Whilst Benghisa was surrounded by at least 15 residential units, with the nearest village located 200 metres away, only one farmstead is located within the site and two on the boundary.
On the downside, eight protected ecological species will be lost at Ghallis due to excavation.
The proposal to have Benghisa as a probable landfill site provoked great outrage amongst the Birzebbuga residents who, led by their outspoken mayor, crusaded against having the new engineered landfill placed at their doorstep.
On the losing side are the owners of the Coastline Hotel, which is situated 450 metres away from the Ghallis ta’ Gewwa site, and will be visually impacted. Unsurprisingly, owner Winston W Zahra is disappointed.
"We have been suffering for the past nine years with the Maghtab dump and now that it is closing down it is being replaced by a landfill sited closer to the hotel. It is a great shame that our suggestion to develop a landfill to serve for the next five years instead of twenty has fallen on deaf ears. This would have meant that the land required would have been much smaller, thus opening other areas, away from habitation and tourist zones."
Zahra also said that a suggestion to stop construction material going to Maghtab and dump it into spent quarries was never taken up three years back: "Maghtab today would have been over three million tons smaller in volume. It is only now, three years later that this system has been adopted.
"I strongly urge government to study seriously the consequences of this decision and I hope that a proper EIA will be made to establish all consequences related to this decision."

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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