Some of the concrete controversially laid on country roads in a Rabat valley is being pulled up again by Infrastructure Malta on orders from the environment watchdog, which wants the roads to be reinstated to their original footprint.

The controversy erupted last month when it transpired that a number of narrow country roads used primarily by farmers at Wied l-Isqof were being widened, as part of a government project to “reconstruct” rural roads.

Faced by this outrage, the Environment Resources Authority ordered Infrastructure Malta to halt the works, through what it called a stop and compliance order. The measure was taken because the project was resulting in “biodiversity destruction”, ERA had said.

Infrastructure Malta argued that the roads in question were not being widened beyond their original footprint - even though evidence on the ground suggested otherwise.

However, an ERA spokeswoman confirmed that Infrastructure Malta had, in fact, encroached on adjacent land. She said that concreting beyond the original footprint was being removed by the roads agency’s contractors through the use of appropriate heavy machinery.

Several truckloads of material have been removed and dispatched for appropriate disposal to enable the area’s habitat to regenerate even in the area previously concreted, she said.

An onsite visit confirmed that the roads had been narrowed, with a stretch of soil replacing the concrete along the perimeter.

In its reply, ERA said it had intervened because the roadworks were degrading the ecosystem of the area beyond the asphalted area.

Among other things, the interventions had altered the physical profile of the valley and the natural course of the freshwater stream to the detriment of the biodiversity and the natural characteristics of the site, the spokeswoman said.

Environmentalists had denounced the works, saying vegetation was being obliterated as concrete was being poured beyond the existing footprint, damaging flora and fauna on both sides of the road.

Biodiversity expert and former assistant director of the environment protection directorate at the now defunct Malta environment and planning authority, Alfred Baldacchino, had warned that turning these roads into “highways” could have a detrimental effect on farmers due to the increase in traffic.

He also criticised the project, saying the concrete was blocking the percolation of rainwater to the water table.

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