MaltaToday | 10 August 2008

NEWS | Sunday, 10 August 2008

Lija fireworks enthusiasts explode at opposition

Just days after the Lija parish feast, which is renowned for its extravagant pyrotechnic shows, the owners of the St Michael’s fireworks factory are coming out against opponents who are petitioning against the factory due to its proximity to a school.
In a press conference organised yesterday, the St Michael’s factory owners expressed their disappointment at the opposition they were facing on different fronts, claiming “the factory would be in serious trouble” due to such “spokes in the wheel”.
“Now it’s either us or them. We had a good feast this year but problems never stopped coming our way,” Joseph Mangion, the factory’s spokesperson, said.
Mangion has clearly had enough. He says the controversy escalating on television over his factory’s proximity to the Giovanni Curmi Higher Secondary school presenting a safety hazard to students, is a storm in a teacup.
Referring to a petition signed by the pupils’ parents, Mangion pointed fingers at lecturer Stephen Florian, who organised the petition, and lawyer Georg Sapiano, who offered his legal services to the school gratis, accusing them of having a hidden agenda.
“Nobody does anything for free,” Mangion said, referring to Sapiano. “I spoke to Florian over the phone recently, to let him know that I personally came onto the school grounds on the day of the feast, and that there were no traces of dangerous debris. He told me he had nothing to do with the petition, and that he had been sent on TV by the school principal. But the school principal, who is very cordial, told me Florian organised the whole thing on his initiative, and that the school had nothing to do with it.
“The whole issue came up only after they built a turf pitch on campus. This could have been built anywhere on the grounds, but for some reason they decided to place it the closest possible to the factory. In any case, we met the school principal and reached an agreement to minimise any possible hazards.”
Pointing at the newly developed sports pitch, Mangion said the factory had covered the turf pitch in wood and plastic, to avoid any fire risk caused by fireworks debris. “Besides, the school premises are located further than 183 metres away from the factory, which is the minimum distance stipulated by law.”
Even the Malta Union of Teachers has expressed concern over the proximity of the fireworks factory to the school, calling on the authorities to ascertain there is no risk to the safety of staff and students at the Giovanni Curmi school and other neighbouring schools.
Meanwhile, Mangion said that last Friday his colleagues had impeded excavations for the development of a private road within the 183-metre buffer around the St Michael’s fireworks factory.
The road is to give back-door access to a villa in Iklin. Mangion said his colleagues stopped the contractor from offloading a bulldozer from his truck, on the grounds that a permit for the road should have never been issued for a development sited within 183 metres of the factory.
“The contractor told us he had the necessary permits and that works would start off anyway, threatening to resort to assistance from the army,” Mangion said, claiming he shrugged off the warning by telling the contractor: “It’s not like we’re in Somalia.”
It is arguable that issuing a permit within 183 metres of a fireworks factory is tantamount to a huge oversight on MEPA’s part. Mangion thinks otherwise: “I think this was done on purpose. Strangely, on MEPA plans published in 2006, our factory does not appear, whereas a nearby fireworks factory that has been closed since 1981 can be clearly seen on plan,” he said.

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