Some 26 trees are being removed from a Marsascala bypass as they are either dead or severely damaged and pose a safety risk to road users, Infrastructure Malta claimed on Sunday.
The alarm was raised over the weekend by activists and residents who witnessed several pine trees along Triq Wied il-Għajn being "chopped and shredded".
They told Times of Malta some of the mature trees looked "healthy", while others had suffered damage after having their roots exposed for several months over summer, or else had their roots covered in cement in past years.
But IM said the removal of 26 casuarina trees from the bypass formed part of a road safety exercise and all permits were in hand.
"These alien and invasive trees are either dead or severely damaged by insect infestation, posing a health and safety hazard to road users," CEO Ivan Falzon told Times of Malta.
Works, he said, are being carried out after obtaining all necessary clearances.
Indigenous trees will be planted on the same road as part of the agency’s nationwide tree-planting initiative, which, since summer 2019, has seen the planting of more than 42,000 trees and 38,000 shrubs across the island, he added.
IM, Falzon explained, was carrying out a €3.6 million project to rebuild Triq Wied il-Għajn and Triq Ħaż-Żabbar to introduce safer pedestrian and cycling connections between Żabbar and Marsascala.
Works started in April. The two existing roads, also known as the old Marsascala Bypass, currently have no adequate facilities for pedestrians, bus commuters and cyclists, Falzon said.
John Paul Cauchi, from the Marsascala Residents Network, who is also a member of Moviment Graffitti, called for a culture change: "We cannot continue treating trees as a secondary object that can be removed for the convenience of road users. We should instead integrate trees into the surrounding environment."
The trees, had they been cared for, offered shelter to pedestrians and fauna including birds.
"Just because their removal is legal, it doesn't make it right. These trees, although not indigenous, are not invasive.
"They were healthy until they had been covered in cement - something the Marsascala Residents Network had flagged months ago."