PD accuses the Government of “going in blind” on Gozo tunnel project

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PD accuses the Government of "going blind" over Gozo tunnel projectPartit Demokratiku has accused the Government of “going in blind” on the Gozo tunnel project, saying that the Parliamentary motion presented by Government to be discussed on Wednesday is “a clear admission that government has decided to go ahead with the project no matter what.”

PD stated that this is because it has an electoral manifesto pledge. it argued that, “in the motion government is clearly admitting that the information on the viability and sustainability of such a national mega project is neither complete nor ascertained.”

“The Government has also committed itself to being the guardian of our natural environment and cultural identity, and that it will follow all pertinent regulations and laws,” said the PD.

Partit Demokratiku added that it, and the people of Gozo and Malta, “have a different experience of the reality behind numerous government projects which do not follow ethical correctness, transparency and accountability.”

Partit Demokratiku went on to say that it fully supports the NGOs’ collective legal action and calls on government to publish all reports as the technical information presented is disjointed, inadequate and incomplete.

PD said that it is “not limited by tunnel vision, and the permanent link as presented is not the be all and end all to all of Gozo’s problems.”

Partit Demokratiku stated that it is for the “invigoration of the Gozitan economy by safeguarding and enhancing Gozo’s Unique Selling Points.”

It concluded by saying that “Gozo’s social fabric needs to be strengthened through positive incentives and the creation of work in Gozo, thus improving the quality of life.”

Malta- Gozo tunnel technical analysis

“Parliament will be discussing a motion presented by government to spearhead its decision for the procurement of the Malta-Gozo Tunnel.” PD stated that this decision relies on the facts that:

1) “There is a pledge by both parties in their electoral manifesto

2) That government has decided on the basis of :

• 2015 Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options

2017 Social Impact Assessment

2018 Project Description Statement

An unpublished Geological Report

3) A commitment by government that it will follow all relevant laws and regulations.

Partit Demokratiku has a number of technical reservation that wishes to bring to public attention and fully supports the legal action taken by a group of NGOs.

Technical comments on the document:
Establishing a permanent link between the island of Gozo and mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options (September 2015)

PD contends that the document is fundamentally flawed and that it cannot be used to justify a decision of this magnitude. The flaws of the document are as follows:

A) Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options:

The document arrives to definitive conclusions based on very flimsy information and unreliable assumptions. The information is far too thin to evaluate any option, let alone three: tunnel, bridge, do-nothing options, and then make comparisons between them. The business as usual options were not studied under different possibilities with +/- air connectivity.

The capital cost per kilometre of tunnel increases significantly with (i) length of tunnel (because of increased logistical difficulties) (ii) depth of tunnel (because of water pressures onto the tunnel walls). This factor was not taken into account by the ECB in its cost estimates.

The cost of disposal of the inert waste. (The PDS (May 2018) claims that there will be one million cubic metres of inert waste. ) Whether dumped at sea or used for land reclamation, there is a significant cost involved, a cost that was not factored into the ECB cost estimate.

The disposal of waste raises environmental issues. Land reclamation is being mentioned as a possible option for inert waste disposal. This will have huge environmental implications with the loss of a significant stretch of scenic, natural coastline (either at Bahar ic-Caghaq or Xghajra).

The ECB attributes monetary values to the various benefits that the tunnel will bring. It fails however to attribute monetary values to the significant environmental and economic non-benefits that land reclamation will impose.

The disposal of the significant volumes of inert waste raises another concern in relation to the planning process.
Planning Authority approval of the tunnel is reliant on appropriate disposal of the inert waste, an activity which itself requires substantial studies and eventually a PA permit and an ERA license.

 No applications have been submitted in relation to the waste disposal. The Planning Authority cannot issue a permit for the tunnel unless all the relevant planning issues are adequately resolved, included waste disposal, something that is reliant on other permits/ licenses.

In accordance to national legislation and EU directives, any plan or program prepared by a public authority which is likely to have a significant effect on the environment should be subjected a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and not an EIA.

The implications (both positive and negative) of the tunnel project are far reaching for both Malta and Gozo, but especially for Gozo. Because of the far-reaching implications, the Gozo tunnel project should be considered tantamount to a plan and therefore an SEA is required.

The ECB states categorically ?On page 54) that the tunnel will require no public financing. PD’s technical experts contends that this statement is wrong because (i) important cost elements have not been taken into account (ii) there is insufficient information on the length and technical details of construction to derive meaningful capital and running costs (iii) the assumptions are far too unreliable.

The Prime Minister Dr Joseph Muscat said that the tunnel will be economically sustainable and will not place an additional burdens on the people.

The ECB computations are based on an estimated capital cost of 300 million euros. The ECB claims that the estimate is based on information from the Norwegian Road Transport Authority.

Preliminary research by PD’s technical advisers suggests that costs of tunnels and road projects could be much higher than those indicated by the ECB. Incidentally a former transport minister declared in 2011 that the cost of the tunnel could be as high as 500 million euros.”

The Project Description Statement (PDS)

PD said that “this refers to two options for the tunnel route namely either a deep seated tunnel below the Blue Clay layer or a shallow seated tunnel above the Blue Clay layer. The choice of option will have huge implications on the technical detailing of the project and hence on the cost estimates.”

It noted that “for the deep-seated option the length of tunnel will be longer and this again has implications on costs. The PDS was also very schematic on the method of construction and on the tunnel linings. Even as late as May 2018, there was insufficient information to make reasonable estimates of costs.”

PD argued that, “the procurement procedures are not robust both at the design tender stage and then subsequently at supervision and eventual disbursement. It is assuming that Malta has a strong culture of ethical correctness in the public sector. Poor supervision on procurement, combined with lack of experience, may result in tunnel costs spiraling out of control.”

PDs vision is very different from PL’s and PN’s “tunnel vision” by which they are presenting the permanent link as the solution for all of Gozo’s problems, it said. “PD is of the opinion that the solution lies in radically improving the connectivity between the two islands, but not by means of a permanent link. A tunnel would improve connectivity but has so many downsides that in our opinion will sign the death knell of Gozo as we know it.”

PD stated that “Gozo is an integral part of our country with huge potential which has not been brought to the fore due to bad decisions in the past. The island of Gozo is a resource in itself with an added value to the Maltese islands.”

“PD believes in invigorating the Gozitan economy by safeguarding and enhancing the many positives that Gozo possesses, whilst at the same time improving connectivity and giving better opportunities to Gozitans. PD has a Social visio,” it said.

PD said that its proposals are complemented by:

• “A Gozo Strategy, where the money that would have been spent on the Gozo tunnel in the coming seven years would be dedicated to Gozo’s embellishment, upgrades and creation of job opportunities to really bring an economic revival of the island in a structured and environmentally sane way;

• The Ministry for Gozo along the years has resulted in too much power resting in the hands of the incumbent minister – PD proposes the establishment of a Regional Gozo Authority with ample budget to implement the decision taking in specified areas. The Minister’s role is to ensure that Gozo remains aligned in general policy with Cabinet decisions, and is not involved in the day to day running of Gozo.

• Proposing a holistic development Masterplan for Gozo which will commit against high rise buildings, any more ODZ uptake, further ribbon development between villages and any more uptake of agricultural land.

The potential we are looking for is for Gozitans themselves and other people of goodwill to work together, rather than turning it into the next foraging ground for greedy speculators and unscrupulous business.”

Photograph by Alain Salvary

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