The Malta Independent 14 July 2020, Tuesday

TMIS Editorial: Maghtab project is a must

Sunday, 24 May 2020, 11:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Much has been said over the past few weeks about the Maghtab waste-to-energy project and, as is always the case, negative headlines make more waves than the positive ones.

News about protesting farmers is likely to get more clicks and likes than the announcement that the planned project has been downscaled by 70%, or that the area being taken up at Maghtab will be given back elsewhere.

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As with everything else in this country, the WasteServ project is being turned into a political controversy, but the fact of the matter is that this crucial project has to go ahead, and we are already very late.

Malta’s track record on recycling and efficient waste management has not exactly been stellar. Administration after administration has tried to find a solution to the problem, which is not easy in a country as small as ours yet with a population density which is among the highest in the world.

Waste generation over the past three decades has exploded yet we have relied, for all this time, mostly on our shrinking landfills. That method is no longer an acceptable and viable option and we have to shift to other, more efficient and environmentally friendly means of waste management.

Great efforts have already been made in the separation of organic waste and the collection of recyclable material. But it is time that we take it to the next level.  

The waste-to-energy project is not something new: past PN administrations had pledged to invest in the project, arguing that it was vital for our waste management efforts and to help the country reach its recycling targets.

They were right. Only, they never got around to doing it.

Now that a plan has finally been put in motion, the Opposition has come out guns blazing against a project it had preached about so much when it was in government.

The issue this time is that a number of agricultural fields adjacent to the Maghtab complex – an eyesore that, we had been promised, would be turned into a rose garden – will be taken up to accommodate three new facilities.

These are the waste-to-energy plant which will in itself significantly limit Malta’s landfilling volumes, a new plant for the management of dry recyclables, a plant to treat organic waste to extract energy and produce compost for use in agriculture, as well as the replacement of the clinical and abattoir waste incinerator.

 The PN’s argument is that a number of local farmers will be affected. The fact that some people and their livelihoods will be negatively affected is truly unfortunate, but practically every decision, every major project, comes with a price. It’s just the way it is.

The farmers have suggested that WasteServ moves its plants to other nearby areas, but the waste management agency explained why these areas are unsuitable, either because they are protected under nature laws or because the ground is unsuitable for the construction of heavy plant equipment. It has argued that the new installations need to be built in the vicinity of the Maghtab complex to be viable.

We are usually not ones to side with development, especially if it comes at the cost of rural ground, but in this case, we believe that this project is a must and we cannot delay the process any longer.

The government should ensure that the affected farmers are given fair compensation for the land, as it is a well-known fact that expropriation pay-outs can be unjust.

A number of farmers have taken the government to court over the issue, and one way of solving this could be to reach an out of court settlement where they are justly compensated.

But the project should go ahead.

Efforts have been made to ensure that the land take-up is minimised, and the project has already been scaled down by 70%. The fact that the effects of the development are being mitigated is something which must be acknowledged.

Furthermore, this is not some real estate project. This is not another Zonqor Point case, where ODZ land was given up to a private operator to set up a money-making business. This is a national project of national importance.

On a delicate subject like this one, government and opposition must work together because, if we fail, we will be failing as a country, not as a party in government.

It will be useless to point fingers if the waste management crisis persists as a result of political bickering.

 

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