Thursday, September 04, 2014

Neighbours At War: Sewage treatment

Lurking on the edge of the wetlands of Albufera there is something which, from an aerial view, looks like a giant painter's palette. Its colours range from grey-silvers to greens to royal and deeper blues. It is the Albufera sewage treatment plant. Most people don't know of its existence, except perhaps because of the occasional whiff. The rustic part of Playa de Muro (the so-called Sector Two), which comprises a couple of urbanisations, nine hotels and an awful lot of forest and dunes, is subject to strange smells. There is, especially in high summer, one that is like burnt sulphur. I have always assumed this to be because of a sort of marsh gas from the low-level wetlands and vegetation. I may be right. But there are other more pungent smells. An antiquated sewage pipe network is one cause. An antiquated sewage plant may well be another.

The plant is not far from Playa de Muro's border with Can Picafort. It is, therefore, within the municipality of Muro, whose neighbour, Santa Margalida, shares the facility. Or to be more specific, the coastal resorts of Playa de Muro and Can Picafort - with their combined eighty odd hotels - share it. The transient tourist populations of the two resorts massively dwarf the resident populations. These are places which exist primarily because of hotel tourism, and that hotel tourism lies at the centre of an ongoing sewage row between Muro and Santa Margalida town halls.

The Albufera plant, like the pipe network, is antiquated. A new one or an additional one has been required for years. The regional government's environment ministry has earmarked a site for a new one. It is in Son Bauló, the eastern part of Can Picafort. This proposed site has created a stink, the reason being that there are fears that its outlet - 3.7 kilometres out to sea in the bay of Alcúdia and at a depth of 25 metres - might lead to beach pollution and cause destruction of posidonia sea grass. Santa Margalida town hall, in a rare demonstration of unity between its usually antagonistic political parties, continues to flatly reject the plant's construction. The environmental concerns are one reason, but there are, as always, political and commercial ones as well.

Santa Margalida's stance is essentially one of not in our backyard, to which Muro has pointed out that for years Santa Margalida has been happy enough to make use of a sewage plant which is in Muro's backyard. Muro claims that the Albufera plant is creaking, that it could itself cause environmental contamination (to the eco-sensitive wetlands) and that it is past its sell-by date. It, therefore, maintains that the new plant is an absolute necessity. Santa Margalida says that the Albufera plant should be extended. The result? Stand-off.

Into this row has now entered a throwback political dimension. Santa Margalida maintains that the Son Bauló solution was something of a stitch-up involving the discredited former president of the Balearics, Jaume Matas. It was a political pact, the town hall claims, between Matas and the former mayor of Muro, Miguel Ramis, by which a study of the Son Bauló site was given the appearance of legality through some alleged manipulation. Miguel Ramis was the founder of Grupotel; he still is its president. Ten years ago, hoteliers in Playa de Muro, of which Grupotel is one, clubbed together and bought land in Son Bauló; the very land on which the sewage treatment plant may be sited.

That Santa Margalida is now seeking to make some political capital out of the affair adds a new twist to the story but it is a twist which seems all a bit late in the day. Furthermore, around the time that the land was being acquired, there did appear to be general consensus between the town halls as to the necessity for a new plant and for it to be established in Son Bauló. The former mayor of Santa Margalida, Antoni del Olmo, signed up to an agreement in 2005, one which Muro says that Santa Margalida should honour. It should also be noted that the acquisition of the land by the Playa de Muro hoteliers was transparent and one which most parties at the time seemed to accept as a solution in a spirit of sharing and co-operation between hoteliers in the two resorts and between the two town halls.

Since that time, though, the politics have moved on. So, what happens next? GOB, the environmental watchdogs, have added their penny's worth, saying that there should be a third option, one that is neither Albufera nor Son Bauló, but without offering an actual alternative. All the time, while the arguments fly, the Albufera plant, according to Muro, becomes more of a risk. One day, perhaps, the whiffs in Playa de Muro will be even more pungent.

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