The Malta Independent 26 May 2019, Sunday

Gozo tunnel: entrance location ‘will destroy troglodyte dwellings’ – expert

Jeremy Micallef Wednesday, 19 December 2018, 11:17 Last update: about 6 months ago

The excavation of the tunnel entrance, on the Malta-side portal, in the hamlet of L-Imbordin will destroy troglodyte dwellings dating back to the late medieval period, fertile agricultural land and other archaeological culturally-relevant remains, archaeologist Dr Keith Buhagiar has said.

Buhagiar was referring to the hotly debated Malta-Gozo tunnel that would link both islands by means of a subterranean road that would be build under the channel between Malta and its sister island.

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In a post on his social-media page, the respected archaeologist explained how not only will the excavation affect historically- and culturally-relevant remains, but it will “ruin another relatively unspoilt stretch of what is left of Malta’s countryside.

“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?”

He insisted that havoc would be imposed on the Pwales valley area if road widening works are done at the L-Imbordin, and this would lead to the perishing of pre-Knights period agricultural estates technically known as ‘viridaria’ or ‘giardini’ “for the sake of development”.

The viridaria or giardini received their fresh water from subterranean man-excavated water galleries, and 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.”

Have more environmentally friendly alternatives been given their due consideration, Buhagiar asked, noting that the current link between Malta and its sister island is a monopolised endeavour.

“Wouldn’t the liberalisation of this market result in a further consolidation of the sea links between both islands with the possibility of diversifying the sea route links as necessary?”

“Why invest in a project that will encourage further, the use of private and commercial vehicles?”

Just last month, geologist Dr Peter Gatt warned that there are problems both in terms of the number of faults and large displacements, and also in the stratigraphy of the rock composition between Malta and Gozo.

Gatt went as far as to warn that “problematic geology between Malta and Gozo” will cost lives during the construction phase.

When queried on the concerns, Infrastructure Malta said that the team of Maltese and international experts conducting the necessary are “fully aware of the geological characteristics of the rock formation in the area where the tunnel will be excavated”.  They said that such factors have been encountered and dealt with in hundreds of tunnelling projects worldwide.

The idea of a permanent link between Malta and Gozo has been spoken about by both major political parties for many years, and originally there was disagreement - where the PN wanted a tunnel and the PL wanted a bridge. Both parties now seem to have settled on the idea of a tunnel.

Back in March 2017, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that the government was committed on delivering the promise with regards to the tunnel, as a permanent link between Malta and Gozo.

Muscat had said that this project will take time as a lot of studies need to be carried out before works actually start. In May, Muscat had also said that the tunnel could be operational within seven or eight years.

During the budget speech, last month, it was announced that geological studies for the zone had been finalised and will form the basis for the design of the tunnel.

Over the last weeks, the result of these studies has been discussed with several experts, entities and the concerned authorities and was now being finalised.

Environmental impact assessments required for development permits of such a large project are also being done. Topographic surveys of the zones where the portals of the tunnels are being proposed in Malta and Gozo are being carried out.

Other economic studies are underway which are necessary to ensure that this new infrastructure will be used in the most sustainable manner.

Last week Minister for Transport Ian Borg said that an international call for proposals for the construction of the Malta-Gozo tunnel will be issued in six months' time.

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