An environmental battle
looms in the Monchique hills
The president of the Monchique municipal council is said to have had no forewarning about the announcement. Apparently he only heard about it last week, on 8 February. The municipal council, like just about everyone who lives in the Monchique area, is believed to be opposed to the plan.
The project would be carried out by FELMICA-Minerais Industriais S.A, a major company based in Viseu in central Portugal, which extracts and processes raw materials for the ceramic industry. The company is part of the MOTA group.
It will be up to the government to examine the proposal and listen to any objections before giving or refusing permission. Veterans of other campaigns against projects in environmentally sensitive areas fear approval is virtually certain as big money is involved. “Big money equals power,” said one sceptic yesterday.
The parameters of the proposed site have been disclosed, but it is not publicly known what form the mine would take. No details have been revealed about how it would be operated.
“MOTA ceramic solutions was created to offer raw materials, prepared bodies, and professional services to the ceramic world at the highest standards of quality,” according to the group's website.
A MOTA spokesman told the Algarve Resident last week that the project will not affect the environment because “all impact studies possible are being carried out.”
According to the Resident, the spokesman said: “The project will only progress if the government considers it economically viable. We are studying what is viable within the Natura 2000 regulations and all adjustments will be made in accordance with this network in order to minimise any damage to the environment of the area.”
He said there was no reason for alarm among local residents. “People should not be alarmed because this project will only go ahead with the approval of all parties - residents, Câmara and parish councils - and our obligation is to hear people’s opinions and not affect land owners and the environment."
But there is alarm in the area because of what seems like a lack of transparency. People there are worried that a mining operation could radically affect thousands of households as well as causing untold damage to flora and fauna.
A principle concern is that aquifers, for which the Monchique region has been famous for centuries, may be fundamentally disturbed. Many households with no access to mains or borehole supplies depend on aquifers as their only source of water.
Fifteen years ago, a plan for a mine in exactly the same spot was rejected because of the danger it posed to underground aquifers.
No information has been released yet on whether minerals are to be extracted from an open cast mine / quarry or a closed underground mine. It is not known if they will be processed on-site or transported elsewhere. So it is impossible for the public to make sound judgements yet about possible air or sound pollution, or access road and traffic considerations.
Will property prices be affected? Will burgeoning small-scale, sutainable tourism businesses be stopped in their tracks? Will elderly, hillside farmers already operating on the breadline be denied water for their crops? Questions are hanging in the air because of a hitherto lack of transparency.
The people living in the area – expatriates of various nationalities as well as Portuguese of all ages, some working, some retired - can see no local benefits whatever accruing from this proposed project.
MOTA may insist that “people should not be alarmed” - but they have good reason to be alarmed because so far they have been kept largely in the dark.
A small but vibrant group of protesters have held preliminary meetings and are due to discuss strategy in another meeting, this time in the Junta de Freguesia de Alferce, starting at 2pm on Saturday 19 February.
Meanwhile, they have invited objectors to sign a petition available online at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/save-Monchique-from-greedy-hands