Bioremediation and permaculture at the Marsa Open Centre [IN PROGRESS]

The Marsa Open Centre is sited on an industrial brownfield. A number of factors have been identified that have contributed to the pollution of the soil and water on and around the Centre. Prior to its incarnation as an accommodation centre for asylum seekers, the land and buildings were used as an industrial trade school where students worked with metal and automobiles. Before that, the land was used as a tram yard and power substation. Coal storage facilities were located about 50 metres away along Xatt Il Mollijiet. Currently ringing the site [MAP] are various heavy industries such as a ship repair company, abattoir, scrap metal processing, and workshops for the Department of Works and Services. The topography of the land [MAP] is well-suited to directing toxic runoff from these industries into the MOC site, its adjacent storm-water canal, and finally into the harbour (Mediterranean). The Centre sits in a natural depression in the land with many of the industries situated on a hill to the North-East.

The canal itself was built to mitigate flooding (the MOC is in a floodplain). It receives storm water and runoff from a number of sources including the town of Qormi where it begins, the Royal Malta Golf Club (where it must receive large quantities of pesticides), and the Marsa Racing Club (where the resident horses make their own contribution). This water has historically been untreated, however a small pumping station is currently under construction next to the MOC that will divert raw sewage via tunnels to a new treatment plant at Ta’ Barkat (Malta had no wastewater treatment until 2009 when a facility opened on the island of Gozo. A plant on the main island is scheduled to open in 2011 or 2012). The pumping station was scheduled to come into operation in 2009 but was still under construction when I visited in October of 2010 [PHOTO and MAP]. During my time at the MOC, I saw raw sewage flowing along the canal, past the MOC, and directly into the harbour where the water appeared carbonated – possibly due to intense bacterial activity, although I am no expert [VIDEOS].

One can safely assume that all of these factors have contributed to heavy pollution in the storm water canal and harbour as well as damaged and contaminated (heavy metals, organic pollutants) soils on the site. Clearly, if the MOC is to be a healthy place for asylum seekers and embraced by the community, something must first be done about its polluted land and water. It is my contention that healing of the land and water through natural means can be an integral part of healing relations between the Maltese and the asylum seekers as well as making life more tolerable at the Centre.

Nothing can be done about the polluting industries that surround the Centre (although, one can assume that in good time most of these industries will wither and die as foretold by the great number of abandoned buildings in the area) but I believe that the Centre itself can act as a biological filter that cleans toxic runoff before it reaches the harbour and remediates the contaminated soil, eventually making it suitable for agriculture and parkland.

In the next 2 weeks, I will explore the following architectural strategies that could be employed in order to achieve these lofty goals:

> Water <

Mitigating runoff < Bioswales or rain gardens, rainwater collection, green roofs

Wastewater treatment < Constructed wetlands (storm-water canal), cellular biofiltration (reed bed lagoons)

Stormwater management < Constructed wetlands, naturalized edges

Above // An example of a constructed wetland

Above // A constructed wetland in Renaissance Park, Chattanooga, Tennessee

> Soil <

Remediation of existing soils < Phytoremediation

Establishment of agriculture < Compost remediation, raised beds