Birżebbuġa residents have expressed concern that upcoming dredging works to be carried out in the bay by the Freeport will make the area inaccessible for bathers.

“We’re not saying there should be no dredging... We just don’t want it to happen in the swimming season,” said John Grech, from the Birżebbuġa Environment Action Group, as he addressed a group of residents and journalists near Wied il-Buni bay, nearest to the Freeport.

Mr Grech explained that the planning permit granted to the Freeport stipulated dredging should not take place in summer.

However, Mr Grech said some weeks ago the owners of boats berthed in the area received a notice from Transport Malta telling them to remove the boats by June 10 for dredging works that essentially involve removing accumulated sediment from the seabed.

Mr Grech and Birżebbuġa mayor Joseph Farrugia said they were concerned for the wellbeing of residents who regularly used Pretty and Wied il-Buni bays.

Whenever dredging was carried out, silt was unsettled and the bays became murky. They were also concerned about toxic substances in the silt derived from ships near the Freeport.

Residents who gathered in the area yesterday complained that the bays, once so beautiful, had been reduced to “dirty paddling pools”. One woman said she owned a summer residence in the area that was now rendered worthless.

“When I was a child I used to enjoy fishing for sea urchins in the area... but nowadays all you find is dirt and slime,” a senior citizen said.

Mr Grech added that residents had a pending appeal against the extension of the Freeport’s Terminal One.

“That’s all we need... There are enough towers jutting out of the Freeport. I don’t need to have another one practically on my balcony,” a woman said. When asked about the dredging works, a Freeport spokesman said the go-ahead was obtained from the health authorities to ensure the works were carried out in line with a series of precautions to safeguard the bay and public health. The same procedure had been used last summer, he said.

This was confirmed in a letter sent to the local council, by the Environmental Health Directorate, and seen by The Sunday Times.

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