Imagine a million tons of rock laden on trucks weaving their way through the dense traffic for several years… that is what the tunnel will bring.

Parliament recently decided summarily and almost unanimously to approve the construction of an under-sea tunnel between Malta and Gozo before due consideration and publication of essential studies, and before unequivocal consent of the general public and Gozo’s specially impacted population.

This indicates inordinate haste, inadequate due diligence and disrespect of genuine public opinion.

The apparent urgency may be related to the demands of big business that would bene­fit from the tunnel. Currently, the construction of houses, apartment blocks and towers are meeting challenges due to restricted land availability and environmental liabilities; so the Gozo-Malta tunnel would provide deve­lopers a great opportunity to spread and secure their profitable activities.

The disposal problem created by the massive amount of earth excavated in the digging of the tunnel would be solved by dumping the material into the sea for land reclamation which, in turn, would provide land for development.

The irreversible and bad environmental effects of such an activity seem to have been either ignored or accepted by the project planners as not valid contra-indications to the tunnel project.

Several people have written in the newspapers and a dozen interested NGOs have also strongly expressed valid views against the tunnel project.

A recent Wirt Għawdex presentation in Gozo regarding the tunnel project revealed that a geological and environmental specialist, the Gozo Tourism Association, the Gozo University students’ group, the representative of Gozitans working in Malta and other Gozitans expressed the choice of improving sea transport facilities between Gozo and Malta in preference to having a road in an under-sea tunnel. Only a few people with known personal and business interests took the opposite view.

The many serious concerns of the public have been amply aired for those who needed to understand. It seems futile to repeat them here because they will certainly be unproductive. The decision has now been taken from above and the tunnel will be constructed. If this decision is irrevocable, then so be it!

However, the short- and long-term problems the tunnel will create have to be faced. As soon as the digging starts, the carriage from source to target of the excavated material, which at present occupies a tube of earth 14 kilometres long with a 10-metre diameter, will worsen the present serious traffic problem. Over a million tons of rock and clay rubble have to be transported in daily quotas by dozens of trucks, full to overflowing, from the Gozo and Malta tunnel exits to dumping destinations in Malta. This will take several years.

… destroying the traditional image of Gozo as the separate, different, peaceful, beautiful and unique island of Calypso

Mġarr in Gozo, at present already clogged with queues of motor vehicles waiting to board ferries, would become constantly packed to capacity with longer queues of these trucks also waiting to board sea-craft transport to Malta.

Is this what those who complain about waiting to board the ferries really want for the next five years or more?

It is likely that a dedicated ferry service with its own berthing facilities will be essential for the transport of the tunnel rubble. This must be prepared before digging starts, and it will be a problem in such a small, busy harbour.

In this respect, it could be argued that if, instead of this ferry for excavated rubble, we get another passenger ferry, the tunnel would not be necessary.

As the digging progresses, dozens of trucks loaded with rubble arriving from Gozo will be joined by others from the Malta side of the tunnel excavation. All these heavy vehicles would have to weave their way through dense traffic in Malta, passing through towns or villages, day in and day out, for several years.

One can imagine the misery all this activity would cause to drivers in traffic-clogged roads, residents in transit areas and tourists on slow coaches or in car queues along the routes used.

There is no doubt about the horrible environmental effect that an enormous mass of earth would cause when dumped on land and sea. It is almost certain that reclaimed land on the coastline is intended to be deve­loped to create more building space for developers to exploit; but this may not be what the people really need or want. Perhaps it would be far better to use the material to build breakwaters for better-sheltered harbours or to enlarge the very busy and cramped Mġarr harbour.

As has been forecast in the press and other media, the proposed tunnel is not likely to benefit Gozo. On the contrary, it could lead to a disastrous traffic situation akin to Malta’s, a developmental future of encroachment on ODZ land with environmental damage, and a population influx that would result in overcrowding, air pollution, in­creasing stresses on water supply and waste management, leading to the eventual collapse of the island’s infrastructure.

In the long term, the small island of Gozo could be denuded of its natural charm and suffer a gradual degradation in the quality of life of its residents. The tourist industry, currently Gozo’s main source of income, could then progressively fade to insignificance because tourists would not bother to visit in Gozo a replica of Buġibba or Paceville.

The Malta-Gozo tunnel connection could lead to a creeping infiltration of Malta-style haphazard development in Gozo, eventually resulting in the absorption of Gozo into the Malta-complex as one uniform country, and thus destroying the traditional image of Gozo as the separate, different, peaceful, beautiful and unique island of Calypso.

This is certainly not what the Gozitans want. It is hoped that the authorities will seriously consider the above probabilities and have the wisdom to guard the island and its inhabitants by timely, effective and enforced preventive measures.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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