In works currently underway, the Gozo Ministry has been tearing up Ramla Valley in blatant breach of permit conditions imposed by the Planning Authority and the methodology of works agreed with the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA).
What was described as “restoration of rubble walls” by Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri in an on-site press call a year ago has now morphed into lines of thick, heavy walls of concrete and globigerina limestone.
These thick walls are then being clad with rubble stones to acquire the appearance of rubble walls. Concrete is even being poured in-between the globigerina blocks and rubble cladding in much of the sections, presumably to anchor the rubble stones.
Vegetation along the valley course has been ripped or trampled by the heavy machinery – diggers, excavators, trucks – and some chaste trees appear to have either been destroyed or damaged beyond salvation.
According to the book called Nature in Gozo, compiled by veteran naturalists, the chaste tree is rare in Malta and in Gozo it thrives in four valleys, one of which is Ramla Valley.
All of this is a far cry from the works described in a ‘Comprehensive Method Statement’ drawn up by the architect Godwin Sultana at the request of ERA and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage (SCH) during the permit application process.
The Planning Authority granted the permit on the basis of the works described at length and glowingly in the method statement. Sultana wrote in the document that he would “oversee all procedures for [sic] the project.”
The project, funded by €2.2 million of the EU’s Rural Funds, is being carried out by the Eco Gozo Directorate within the Gozo Ministry. Eco Gozo was set up thirteen years ago to foster sustainable development and nature conservation in Gozo.
In the method statement, the architect Godwin Sultana wrote that the project “seeks only to repair existing walls which are structurally sound by traditional means in order to maintain its integrity and replace unsound walls with traditional rubble walls characteristic of the rural environment. The project seeks only to work within the footprint of the existing walls maintaining existing dimensions.”
The schematic illustrations also only show rubble walls, some of them built on top of small “concrete foundation [that] may be put in place so as to have a more solid foundation.”
Nowhere are the blocks of globigerina limestone that are currently being laid mentioned or seen, and neither is the concrete infill.
In fact, the method statement specifies that “rubble drywall masonry to be constructed shall be the traditional type of masonry stonework commonly found in the local Rural Landscape, built from different sizes of limestone blocks (tal-Franka or tal-Qawwi), roughly fitted together with minimal clearance between adjacent stones and no use of mortar.”
The walls being built of limestone blocks are much thicker than the “footprint of the existing walls” promised in the method statement.
The method statement also says that “eroded and structurally unsound” stretches of walls would be “carefully dismantled”, and that “the equipment to be used for this project are common in nature for minor excavation works, minor concrete works, and masonry works.” It says that “no permanent Crane is envisaged to be utilized.”
In contrast, the machinery being used include heavy diggers, excavators, trucks, and cranes.
The method statement also promised works “carefully managed to ensure that disruption to the surrounding areas is avoided.”
Yet trucks with full loads of limestone blocks are being driven onto the fields stepping up from the valley, in the process destroying the soil structure essential for proper growth of flora. And the construction of such thick walls has necessitated the major shifting of soil and substrate, which is piled in adjacent fields, with all the loose earth turning the valley into a dustbowl whenever the wind rises.
Lovin Malta has reached out to the Planning Authority and the Environment and Resources Authority.
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