The Malta Independent 23 April 2024, Tuesday
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Hondoq ir-Rummien desalination plant could be reactivated

Kevin Schembri Orland Thursday, 23 March 2017, 08:40 Last update: about 8 years ago

The Water Services Corporation is studying the possibility of 'regenerating' the Hondoq ir-Rummien Desalination plant, a situation which could potentially have an impact on the ecology of the area if not handled appropriately.

PN MP Chris Said had asked a question on the subject to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in Parliament, and in response, he was told that "the aim is to improve the quality of drinking water. We are currently in the environmental study process to ensure that no negative effects will occur to the sea in the bay and the surrounding area. The corporation confirmed that discussions with the Qala local council regarding this have already occurred."

A planning application was filed earlier this year. The application read that it is for the "reactivation of use of building for Desalination purposes.  Restoration of the building envelope and changing cladding of the roofing system and main doors."

Back in 2012, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that the site could be replaced by new facilities, such as an indoor swimming pool.

Speaking with this newsroom, PN MP Chris Said said that this 'out of the blue' proposal did not see any consultation. He also said that this proposal starkly contrasts with the 2012 proposals, "and now it is clear that all that was said was purely for vote catching purposes." He also argued that the use of a desalination plant will have an environmental impact on Hondoq Bay and the surrounding area."

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) submitted a document to the Planning Authority on the application, providing their initial thoughts. The ERA described the project description - that the existing building located in Hondoq ir-Rummien consists of a former seawater desalination plant dating back to the late 1960s. "The submitted photos indicate that the structure and finishes are in a dilapidated state. It is formed of two main sections which mainly include a large hall in two widths and two floor levels and an office block attached to the seaward side of the hall consisting of two floors each. As indicated in the documents, the refurbishment and structural repair of the building, the size and shape of the external envelope shall be retained. No additional structures external to the existing building envelope shall be allowed. Envisaged works include the following: Upgrading of the existing premises to accommodate a Reverse Osmosis Plant,  Construction of intake/drilling of directional wells, submerged brine outflow works, and Installation of Reverse Osmosis equipment."

The ERA noted that the proposed development will have a site area of 3,300sqm, and lies outside the development zone and is located within a protected Natura 2000 site. The plant would have a monthly capacity of 140,000m3 (i.e. approximately 5000m3 daily)." In this regard, the case does not qualify for further EIA screening as per EIA Regulations 2007, given that the thresholds stipulated by the same Regulations are not exceeded."

Appropriate Assessment required

The ERA did say that an Appropriate Assessment in as per the Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations will be required. The environmental impact of the project will be assessed in this Appropriate Assessment.

It highlighted that the proposal is directly adjacent to, and discharging into the Marine Protected Area  - 'Il-Baħar fil-Grigal ta' Malta'. "This site is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) designated to protect the marine habitats: sandbanks, reefs, Posidonia beds and submerged or partially submerged marine caves. The same site also falls within a Special Protected Area (SPA) - 'Il-Bahar ta' Madwar Ghawdex'. The SPA is designated for the protection of seabird species Calonectris diomedea and Puffinus Yelkouan."

The ERA noted that the proposed development may lead to possible impacts on the SAC (e.g. in relation with habitat degradation, disturbance through noise and light emissions, etc.), therefore the nature of the impacts on the SAC are considered to be unclear.

 "In terms of the ecological assessment, a thorough benthic survey shall be carried within the area of influence which shall take into consideration the potential impact on Posidonia oceania meadows  and other habitats such as reefs and caves. This survey is to be assessed as part of the modeling to determine the impact on the Natura 2000 site."

The ERA also noted that the drilling of sea wells (if required) might affect/obliterate the surrounding habitats and respective fauna. In this regard, a method statement detailing all the envisaged works would need to be submitted.

The ERA noted concerns of noise pollution which could be generated by the machines used. "Noting the plant's vicinity to a Special Protected Area designated for the protection of seabirds, noise pollution should be kept into consideration as it might affect seabird colonies as well as the general public frequenting the beach during the summer season. In view of this, technical specifications of equipment that is proposed to be used and relevant sound levels including noise mitigation measures should be provided. Strict light pollution restriction measures should be employed. In this regard, details of external lighting also need to be submitted."

The ERA recommends that soundproofing be integrated into the design phase in terms of both windows installations and the general building.

The ERA also noted that in view of the asbestos ceiling, authorization from OHSA must be obtained for removal of such structures. "Additionally, details into containment procedures as well as how and where the asbestos is to be disposed of must be provided to the Authority for approval."


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