The Planning Authority board has given the green light to an outline proposal for the construction of a new waste-to-energy facility in Magħtab, despite heavy objections from neighbouring councils and environmental NGOs.

Between 350 and 400 tonnes of waste will be handled every day at the facility, equivalent to 120,000 tonnes a year. 

The plant, based around an incinerator, will generate enough electricity to power Mellieħa and Gozo, WasteServ CEO Richard Bilocca told the board. Some of this electricity will be used within the plant while the rest will be fed into the national grid.

A case officer told the board that an environmental impact assessment had concluded that there will be net environmental benefits will derive from the project.

The board voted, by seven votes to two, for the project to be granted an outline development permit. Naxxar mayor Anne Marie Muscat Fenech Adami and NGO representative Annik Bonello voted against the proposal.

Last September, the Environment and Resources Authority gave its thumbs up to the proposed facility that is expected to dramatically reduce waste that cannot be effectively recycled and would otherwise be landfilled.

The government first announced its intention to develop a waste-to-energy facility back in 2018.

The site chosen occupies an area of around 30,000 square metres and is adjacent to the Maghtab Environmental Complex.

The Naxxar, Swieqi and Gharghur councils all objected to the plans along with Ramblers, Moviment Graffiti, Maghtab Residents Association, Friends of the Earth, Regjun Tramuntana, Din l- Art Helwa and Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar.

The case officer, however, concluded that although the development being proposed did not fully respect the Central Malta Local Plan since part of the site is located outside the area designated for waste management, it was still positively considered by the Development Management Directorate.

Architect Robert Sant for the applicant explained that the plan is to sink the plant as much as possible into the ground and cover most of the rest with a timber grid structure that mimics the surroundings.

Instead of sinking it further into the ground, the idea is to bring up the level of the ground around it, he said, as he explained the concept behind the original design.

Part of the sizeable building and a third of the 70-metre-high flue will still be seen and cannot be covered.  

Between 30 and 40 per cent of the inert waste produced for the project will be discarded while the rest will be used on site.

A separate 15-metre pump room, which will be pumping up sea water to cool the incinerator, will protrude 4.5 metres above ground level, with the rest buried in the ground. Two pipes will pass underneath the Coast Road and will stretch out one kilometre from the shore for the inlet and 900 metres for the discharge. They will pass over the interconnector.

Sant said that in terms of traffic generation, the new plant will not create any more traffic by refuse trucks since the same number entering daily will be simply shifting to another part of the Magħtab site.

The case officer said several sites in the vicinity had been considered for the application and the one chosen was the “best option” for a plant to turn waste into a resource.

Last April, the environmental screening hit a snag when ERA confirmed a conflict of interest in the project since the environmental impact assessment had been drafted by the CEO of a prominent waste management company Greenpak. The conflict had been flagged by Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Carmel Cacopardo.

The report was eventually re-drafted by a different consultant who had reached the same conclusions.

'Vitiated' findings

But FAA’s Astrid Vella insisted on Thursday that she was challenging the EIA findings since the report was flawed and could not be considered.

“Like in the case of Manoel Island, the EIA is vitiated. As a WasteServ supplier, the EIA coordinator stood to gain, directly or indirectly, from the project. Manoel Island’s was revoked and so should this one be withdrawn since it is flawed,” she said, adding that she was also contenting the site selection process.

Bilocca replied that ERA had taken its decision on the EIA, which concluded that there will be a net benefit on the environment. The EIA had also looked into air quality, traffic assessment and prevailing winds after questions were raised, including by Muscat Fenech Adami and Swieqi deputy mayor Mary Anne Abela, about emissions containing mercury, contaminated water which will be discharged into the sea and the impact the plant would have on farmer who have arable land in the vicinity.

The EIA had concluded that the incinerator will emit nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and metals such as cadmium, mercury, arsenic and small amounts of lead.

On this Biloicca said the plant includes diffusers and state-of-the-art equipment to clean the emissions and water before it is discharged into the sea.

“This plant is key for the country to move away from landfilling where for years we were burying the problem under the carpet. None of use should be proud of the landfills we created over the years and the environmental calamities that it brought about,” he said.

He explained that the plant would give complete operational flexibility because it has two furnaces that can work independently of each other.

PN opposes new waste to energy plant to Maghtab

The Nationalist Party has insisted that the Planning Authority board should not have given its green light to the construction of a new waste to energy plant in Maghtab since the studies were “vitiated” and the site chosen prior to the commissioning of studies.

PN spokesperson on the environment and climate change, Robert Cutajar, said that although the party agreed on the need for an incinerator, it believes that Maghtab was not the best site for the project.

He questioned where all the studies over the project were, including the site selection process and other sites that had been considered. He also asked whether residents, local councils and environmental NGOs had full access to these studies.

PN MP Karl Gouder said that Malta was facing an environmental crisis while PN candidate James Aaron Ellul spoke about the vitiated environment impact assessment.

In a statement after the vote, the Labour Party said that the PN’s opposition to the waste to energy project without any alternative shows that it wanted more landfills than it did when it was in government. It also shows that the Nationalist Party remains populist without solutions.

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