11-km flood-relief tunnel for central areas approved
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11-km flood-relief tunnel for central areas approved

An 11-kilometre-long tunnel that forms part of a multi-million euro flood relief project aimed at diverting rainwater in villages prone to flooding has been given the go-ahead by the planning authority.

The tunnel will run through the valleys and urban areas of Birkirkara, Msida, Wied is-Sewda, Attard, Lija, Balzan and Gżira, directing the water towards Marsamxett and discharging it at Ta’ Xbiex.

After a two-hour hearing, the board unanimously approved the €56 million development, which is crucial to the long-planned and promised national flood relief project.

Project manager George Buhaġiar explained it was very difficult to build a channel system in urban areas, which, ultimately, were the most prone to flooding.

Initially, it was planned the flood relief project would also incorporate a water conservation and harvesting plan. However, it was soon clear combining the two elements would not be cost effective.

“If we included a water conservation plan, the cost would have been unjustified for EU funding,” Mr Buħaġiar said.

Instead, it was decided to focus on flood relief which, in the future, could be linked to smaller water conservation projects.

An underground tunnel system was the most cost effective, costing an estimated €3,000 per metre, compared to €7,000 a metre for culverts and €9,000 a metre for pipes, architect Carmel Mifsud Borg explained.

With 72 metal gratings, 50 silt traps and buried at depths that range from eight to 52 metres, the tunnel will have six shafts strategically located near the main tunnel, which will be used as entrance and exit points during the construction and operation of the tunnel.

An effort was made to try and pass the tunnels under main roads but it was not always possible and, in fact, they would pass under private property at certain points, Mr Mifsud Borg explained.

Martin Testaferrata, a resident, called on the planning authority to have the tunnels rerouted in such a way as not to pass under his property. “I don’t want to make any threats but there always remains the possibility of legal action,” he said.

Planning authority chairman Austin Walker pointed out that all registered objectors had the right to take legal action against the applicant but not the authority. The project has been on the drawing board for 15 years and has been re-launched a number of times, accompanied by largely unchanged plans and ministerial press releases.

Last June, another two applications related to the flood relief project were approved – for Qormi and Marsa and another for the area of Żebbuġ – for infrastructural works involving the reconstruction and modification of channels and bridges.

The planning authority board also approved landscaping works in the ditch below the entrance to Valletta together with some changes to the City Gate design.

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