New waste incinerator destined for Gozo, the north or the south?
With the government set on embarking on a wasteto-energy project incorporating an incinerator, the €150 million question is where, exactly, the project will be located.
Malta’s size being what it is such industrial projects are always bound to be placed in someone’s backyard. As such there are, broadly speaking, only three main geographical choices as far as the country is concerned. Those choices are: the north, the south, or Gozo.
And whatever the choice of location is at the end of the day, once a shortlist of locations is drawn up, the Not In My Backyard syndrome will undoubtedly come into play.
There are arguments to be made for and against all three main geographic regions.
The north, it can be said, has been spared, for the most part, the blight of industrial facilities with which the south of the island has been plagued. But then again, the northern parts of the island also play host to the majority of tourism zones.
The south, burdened with industrial facilities such as the Freeport and the power stations, could argue that it has already been lumped with its fair share.
As for Gozo, by far the greener of the Maltese Islands, an argument could be made in favour of the facility creating much-needed jobs for the sister island as well as providing an extra lifeline for Gozo Channel in terms of contracts for transporting all the waste destined for incineration.
But whatever the choice, the fact of the matter is that no one will want any such facility located in their backyard for aesthetic and air quality concerns, despite the fact that significant pollution abatement equipment will undoubtedly be employed.
This is perhaps exactly why the Environment Minister has been so coy to reveal the location, or locations, the government has in mind. When pressed, he somewhat dubiously said that while no decision had been made, it would be located in an area affecting the least amount of people possible.
It can safely be said that the project will come up for at least a mention as a government priority in the Finance Minister’s Budget Speech tomorrow, given that a committee appointed to present a final waste to energy proposal. Also, the project will leave a sizeable €100 million to €150 million dent in the public coffers, minus any possible contributions from the European Union, and will take six to seven years to complete.
The committee, however, has been boycotted by the Opposition Nationalist Party, which has refused to nominate a representative to take part in discussions. The PN yesterday insisted that the issue be taken up by a separate parliamentary committee re- sponsible for the environment instead, which could deal with the issue through a ‘transparent discussion’. The PN also insisted that the parliamentary committee summons the Environment Minister and the WasteServ CEO to reveal exactly what the plans entail.
But without the Opposition’s participation in the committee, the government will be extremely reticent about revealing those exact plans, and in particular the plans vis-à-vis its location.
While there is no doubt that the initiative is both necessary and laudable, why is it that the Opposition is refusing to participate?
That is because the government very clearly wants the Opposition on board the committee to be able to share the political accountability when crunch time comes along and a site for the facility is announced.
Why else, after all, would the Prime Minister’s very first challenge to the newly appointed Nationalist Party leader – made the very day after he was elected – has been to nominate an Opposition representative to the committee?
The government is acutely aware that the location of the waste to energy incinerator is a hot potato that it does not want to have to handle on its own, but neither does the Opposition want to get its hands burnt.