Unesco, the United Nations world heritage organisation, has asked the Maltese authorities to look into quarrying activity that has been taking place at a decommissioned quarry in Siġġiewi, very close to the ancient Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim temples.
The two megalithic sites are on Unesco’s World Heritage List.
Unesco sources told The Sunday Times of Malta that the reports of this illegal activity could imperil the Unesco status of the temples, which are also one of Malta’s prime tourist attractions.
A few weeks ago, the quarry, known as Tal-Magħluq, was issued with a fast-track permit by the Environment and Resources Authority to be used as a dumping site for the building industry, following a crisis in the disposal of construction waste.
Processed in just three days, the permit allowed Silvan Fenech of Tum Invest to start using the quarry for the dumping of inert waste.
However, the permit also allowed the contractor to mount a mobile crusher on site. According to the ERA, this was to be used to crush the material received but it immediately raised eyebrows within the industry amid concerns that unpermitted industrialisation was restarting in what is designated a conservation area.
Unesco is now investigating detailed information it has received about the quarry. According to a source, although the site can only be used for backfilling, its operators have excavated the rock and performed deep core testing, indicating that they want to dig deeper.
If this is the case, both these activities would be a serious violation of the law, with heavy sanctions attached.
Asked whether these activities have been observed at the quarry and what action is being taken about them, a spokesman for ERA insisted that “it found no evidence of any ongoing excavation” during inspections.
On core testing, the ERA said this did not fall within its remit, with enforcement responsibilities belonging to the other two State regulators, the Malta Resources Authority and the Planning Authority.
The Sunday Times of Malta has received clear evidence that both activities have recently taken place and has verified this information by going on site to see for itself. It has seen evidence of fresh rock excavation, both horizontally and vertically, with the use of a hydraulic hammer – an illegal activity not permitted by the ERA.
We are not fools
The heavy machinery on site is also evidence of bore hole testing, in which deep specimen samples are extracted, clearly indicating that the operators may be intending to restart quarrying operations.
An operator from the industry who spoke to this newspaper on condition of anonymity described the activities at the quarry as completely illegal and harshly criticised the ERA for its lack of enforcement.
“The ERA may think that it is taking everyone for a ride. However, they can rest assured that we are not fools,” he said.
“They must have sent their inspectors either in pitch darkness or blindfolded. The whole of the building industry knows that gross illegalities have been taking place at Tal-Magħluq, except the ERA and the other supposedly competent authorities.”
This newspaper’s sources produced images of the activities taking place at the quarry.
However, a spokesman for Tum Invest denied any illegal activity was taking place.
The Tal-Magħluq quarry was officially decommissioned in 1994 following reports that the methods used to extract hardstone were damaging the foundations of the nearby World Heritage temples.
The government had ordered all activities to stop, following strict recommendations by Unesco.
However, the quarry was reopened for dumping last July, following a decision made by Environment Minister José Herrera amid a build-up of construction waste that needed to be disposed of.
The minister went on TVM hailing a “breakthrough” and issued an official statement announcing that in order to solve the inert waste problem, government agency Wasteserv was to take over the “abandoned” Tal-Magħluq quarry and start operating it as a dumping site.
However, Dr Herrera had to reverse his decision after the police were called in to evict Wasteserv and their commissioned contractor, T & C Ciappara Ltd., from the site – which, it turned out, was private property. The police action reportedly took place in the presence of businessman Maurice Mizzi, one of the owners.
The ERA then issued a permit to TUM Invest to start operating the quarry as a dumping site. According to a source, just a few weeks before Dr Herrera’s decision to re-open the decommissioned quarry, Lapsi Estates, a subsidiary of the Mizzi group, had entered into a financial agreement with Tum Invest to operate the quarry on Lapsi’s behalf.
The Sunday Times of Malta is also informed that T & C Ciappara was selected by Wasteserv top officials through a direct order.
In the wake of these incidents, this newspaper asked Wasteserv to say how it had failed to realise that the quarry was owned by Lapsi Estates Ltd, how the contractor commissioned by the State agency was selected and how much he was paid for the operation. No reply was received.
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