News | Sunday, 07 December 2008

Seabank Hotel originally proposed new Ghadira road

Hotelier sought 33% of the beach in return to pay for new road construction

A hotelier’s proposal to build a road and a tunnel passing behind the Ghadira nature reserve in Mellieha could well be the source of much controversy today.
The study, commissioned in 2004 by Silvio Debono, owner of the Seabank Hotel, was the first to propose diverting Mellieha’s main thoroughfare behind the hotel and through the garigue – which minus the tunnel, could well be exactly what Transport Minister Austin Gatt now intends to do.
But more significantly, ten years ago Debono offered to pay for re-routing the Ghadira road passing in front of the hotel, in return for 33% of the replenished Mellieha beach.
In 1998 he applied for a re-direction of the road, to construct a promenade and enlarge the beach at his own expense. In return, he expected a third of the beach in the form of a concession. “When I saw I was heading nowhere, I dropped it,” Debono tells MaltaToday in an interview today.
Debono says his original proposal was to have a bridge constructed in front of the nature reserve. His 2004 proposal, Debono says, cost him “a lot of money” to have a Regional Environment Impact Assessment, the first of its kind, on having a tunnel run beneath the garigue’s plateau behind the Danish Village, and a road passing behind the nature reserve.
Debono claims that both Din l-Art Helwa and BirdLife expressed their agreement with the EIA consultants – ADI Associates – to have the road re-routed.
Both organisations have rejected such claims. A letter sent by Din l-Art Helwa to ADI in August 2004 declares that the garigue area “should not be disturbed” and that the new road would disturb the garigue, adding that the “the full effect, including the tunnel parts, should be mapped and alternatives investigated before taking any decision.”
BirdLife director Tolga Temuge says there was only one face-to-face meeting with ADI over plans to enlarge the nature reserve. “When we were told a road would be passed behind the reserve, BirdLife President Joe Mangion made it clear we were against it.”

Studies required
In their studies ADI claim the relocation of the road is essential because the Mellieha Bay area was exhibiting signs of severe environmental degradation, with threats from sand nourishment, barbecues, mushrooming kiosks, and the “looting of sand for construction and paving.”
The study refers directly to the vertical sea wall next to the Tunny Net complex which altered the sea currents in the area.
The existing road is also deemed to be affecting the sand budget, “starving the system [by] tampering with the flow of water and sediment.”
But the study does not recommend the complete elimination of the existing road, retaining part of the road necessary to supply other establishments in the bay.
The study also shows plans for two car parks, one of which near the Seabank hotel; and a dense green screen on both sides of the new road to minimise noise pollution affecting the reserve.
But the study contains no scientific studies backing minister Austin Gatt’s warning that Mellieha bay is set to disappear; although it claims the wetlands and dunes could be lost if the road is not relocated.
Biologist Andre Raine, BirdLife’s conservation manager, says the Ghadira road is potentially functioning as a form of coastal defence, protecting the ecologically important habitat of Ghadira, which is below sea level.
“Until research is conducted, we have no reason to believe Dr Gatt’s unsupported allegations about the Ghadira beach being lost in the near future,” Raine said.
“By no means is it certain that removing the road would protect beach dunes or increase beach area. Detailed research needs to be carried to see whether removing the road would result in the beach moving further inland. This would have irreversible impacts on other protected habitats including the nature reserve.”


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