SOS Hondoq News

Monday, May 21, 2007

More time needed to study voluminous Hondoq ir-Rummien EIA

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday on 20th May, 2007 by David Lindsay.

Stakeholders studying the draft Environmental Impact Assessment of the controversial mega-tourism development proposed for Hondoq ir-Rummien, Gozo have asked for more time to wade through the extensive, six-volume report.

The developers are proposing the “construction of a destination port comprising hotel, yacht marina and tourist village” at the 68 square kilometre site, much to the consternation of environmental organisations, Malta’s two opposition parties – the Malta Labour Party and Alternattiva Demokratika – and the majority of the people of Qala.

At any rate, with the publication of the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the development proposal – also known as the Qala Creek project – has now moved on from the Project Description Statement stage and is drawing ever closer to a final verdict from the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

The sheer length of the draft EIA, however, is daunting.

As one stakeholder who spoke anonymously to The Malta Independent on Sunday put it, “We have chapters coming out of our ears, and we simply do not have enough time to go through it all in the one-month time frame.”

It is known that some of the stakeholders entrusted with providing feedback on the draft EIA will be requesting an extension to the deadline, given the mind-boggling length of the EIA, which is of course also riddled with technicalities that need to be evaluated by experts.

Over and above the merits of the development itself, the residents of Qala – perched just above the scenic area with majestic views of Comino and the north of Malta – are concerned about heavy traffic flows through the village’s narrow streets.

Such traffic, they argue, would be particularly heavy during the excavation of the remainder of the quarry and the cliff faces in the area. They also expect the inconvenience to continue through the construction phase and later for servicing and accessing the resort.

One Qala resident contacted yesterday laughed off one of the EIA’s proposals that the developer pay for double glazed windows for households facing the street where the bulk of traffic would flow.

“Who are they trying to fool?” the Qala resident, who lives on the very road in question, asked. “They should also supply gas masks for the pollution and free electricity, since, if we have to leave our windows closed, we will need to use air-conditioning 24/7.”

Five years after the controversial Qala Creek development was shelved in 2002 following vociferous protests from the nearby village of Qala, and a referendum among residents that had 85 per cent voting against it, the project is now back on the drawing board.

The project proposal was submitted once again in December 2005 and presented to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) in January 2006.

The proposed developers intend spending some EUR90 million on the project if approved.

The beach is perhaps one of the most popular in Gozo, boasting some of the cleanest waters around the whole of the islands, while it additionally provides one of the few, if only, safe place to swim when Gozo experiences prevailing majjistral, or northwest, winds.

Opponents insist the pristine waters will become polluted as a result of heavy yacht traffic passing just metres from the beach and that, although the sandy beach has not been included in the development as such, it and the entire surrounding area will suffer and be visually marred as a result of the development.

The EIA is, however, said to pay heed to the fact that the Hondoq ir-Rummien beach is the cleanest beach in Gozo – a status that opponents argue could very well be jeopardised by the establishment of a yacht marina.

One recurring theme being argued by the proposed developers throughout the lengthy document, drawn up by MEPA at the expense of the proposed developers, is that the area is an illegal dump site and an eyesore that would be cleaned up and landscaped through the project.

The development, which is envisaged, if approved, to be wrapped up by 2010, would comprise a five-star 170-room hotel, 25 villas, 60 self-catering units, 200 multi-ownership residences, a ‘village centre’ with a small church, administration offices, small-scale shops and restaurants and the 100–150 vessel marina.