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Farmers raise objections at meeting with authorities

Storm water flooding the Burmarrad plain is not a liability for farmers. It inundates the soil rendering it very fertile in summer. The photo was taken last December.

Storm water flooding the Burmarrad plain is not a liability for farmers. It inundates the soil rendering it very fertile in summer. The photo was taken last December.

The St Paul's Bay local council is expected to discuss the government's controversial plans to build a concrete storm water channel through the Burmarrad flood plain in a meeting this week, mayor Paul Bugeja said yesterday.

Contacted by The Times, Mr Bugeja confirmed that he had helped set up a meeting last Wednesday between farmers tilling land in the Burmarrad flood plain - who are mostly against the project - and government officials in a bid to clear the air on issues raised by the farmers in recent weeks.

"The farmers are not all of the same opinion. Some want the storm water channel and some don't. I intend putting forward a suggestion for the council to seek independent technical advice on the area before taking a stand," Mr Bugeja said when asked what he thinks of the project.

Plans by the Resources and Infrastructure Ministry to dig a wide water passageway lined with concrete blocks to channel storm water into Salina Bay - intended to prevent road flooding - have been met with opposition from farmers tilling fields in the area. They claim that the solution being proposed by the government will interfere with a natural flooding process.

If rainwater, which replenishes the flood plain in winter, is directed into the sea too quickly, the salty water found beneath the soil would not be balanced out, rendering the plain infertile.

According to farmer Wigi Micallef, who is on the frontline of opposition, most farmers who attended the meeting claimed that the road flooding problem in Burmarrad could be solved without the need for the concrete blocks which the ministry has prepared even though the Malta Environment and Planning Authority has yet to give the project the green light.

"If the tract between Ghajn Rihana and the football pitch - which is the natural, original water catchment - is cleared properly, water could be directed into the flood plain without the need of any culverts. We repeated to the government officials that the project will ruin our land. For us, it is as though we were fishermen and someone decided to remove all the sea around Malta," Mr Micallef said.

Wednesday's meeting, which was attended by Public Works architect Patrick Grixti Soler and Anthony Mifsud from the Agriculture Ministry, was the first between the authorities and the farmers.

It was called soon after the farmers held a press conference on site with Alternattiva Demokratika.

Before that, the farmers had already filed their objections to Mepa, copying Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, Opposition Leader Alfred Sant, Environment Minister George Pullicino and Resources Minister Ninu Zammit, along with Competitiveness Minister Censu Galea and Nationalist MP Michael Gonzi who are elected from the 12th district.

"We are really upset because nobody seems to care, no matter how much we object" Mr Micallef said. Besides objecting to the project, the farmer walked the extra mile and commissioned a surveyor to plot the area's height above sea level.

The mapping, he claimed, indicated that the natural waterway was lower than the tract of land where the ministry wants to dig the culvert. Therefore, water would channel better through its natural course than through the concrete culvert, Mr Micallef said.

Objections to the project have also been raised by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and the Malta Archaeological Society which says the project would disturb an archaeologically sensitive area.

The ministry commissioned an environment impact assessment following initial objections, saying it was determined to forge ahead with the project.

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