Sunday, February 13, 2011

An environmental battle
looms in the Monchique hills

A proposed mineral mining project in an unspoilt and supposedly protected section of the Serra de Monchique has aroused suspicions and serious concerns among local residents after a similar project was rejected 15 years ago.

News of the latest project first appeared, not in the government's Diário de República as one would have expected, but in a paid-for notice in the local monthly newspaper, Jornal de Monchique.

The notice was placed by the Energy and Geology General Directorate (DGEG). It was dated 10 January, but the paper did not come out until 31 January. The notice said objections to the proposal should be lodged within 30 days of it appearing in the Diário de República. It still has not appeared there so the deadline for objections remains in doubt.

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


  1. It is indeed extremely concerning that the prospect of mineral / precious metal extraction now appears to be a serious consideration, in what is to date, an unspoilt natural and beautiful part of the Monchique. The quarrying and mining industry has never been a popular one in the eyes of environmentalists, naturalists or anybody who likes, respects and appreciates the beauty of a natural environment. Indeed it is hated even more by the NIMBYs (not in my back yard). However, I am not a NIMBY and I would probably not categorise my self in to any of the aforementioned groups, although I have tremendous respect for the views of such people, provided that reasonable considerations are observed.
    The publication of this notice, to commence with prospecting for certain 'metals' in this area of the Monchique is fairly recent. However, the trials and tests involved prior to such extraction I believe were carried out some 15 years ago (app) I am also informed that progessing from prospecting to extraction were also rejected at that time, after concerns regarding the disruption of the natural waters lying underneath the surface of The Monchique were suggested. This is indeed my concern. I am not a geologist, but I am aware that disruption to the natural aquifers which are a vital element in the waters of The Monchique, could well indeed have a detrimental, if not catastrophic affect on the natural emergence of those waters.
    Although I am aware that we are at a very early stage in the potential development of these mining works, I feel it extremely important that we voice, from the outset, our concerns and objections (if indeed that is what they are) Completion of the on-line petition will certainly help bring our views forward.

  2. The previous comment from E. Hentall is an interesting and considered one from a person who has obviously given his support to the online petition. Whether you live in the Monchique hills or not, what is YOUR opinon? It is still early days in the application for the go-ahead on this project, but in principle are you on the side of the petitioners or those who want to extract minerals for industrial purposes? Let's hear from you - anonymously if you prefer.

  3. It is impossible to form an opinion as there are few facts yet available.

    If people knew what was to be extracted, how, over what period, what will the site look like after extraction, what are the economic benefits to the community, why there, etc etc

    Currently there is only the usual gut-feel reaction to the plan from those most worried, mostly NIMBYs and there is noi shame in that acronym.
    It should be the mining company's first priority to explain the mining process, to follow the correct legal processes and to open and maintain a dialogue with interested and concerned parties through the Freguesia.

    Then, and only then should the locals barricade the proposed site, mount 24 hour vigils with lots of hearty singing and medronha, get the radio, TV stations and press of the world to cover the story via a celebrity endorsement and preferably chain an attractive protestor or two to the Ministry of Mining's front railings.

  4. Sr Algoz makes the point that currently an opinion should not yet be formed as we know so little about the project. Perhaps he would like to consider that is exactly the point that is being made at this time. Reporting to date on this project has, in some cases been inaccurate. These inaccuracies rest not with the reporting media, but perhaps more with those parties who are feeding the media the material. It is the lack of visibility with which this application is being approached that concerns a number of residents within the targeted area. The potential project could at best be described as "opaque" and as such, this only enhances the concern that those residents have to this project. Let us hope that chaining to gates, barricading and hearty singing are not witnessed in this area of the Monchique, as alas, I fear it will all then be too late!

  5. I agree with E Hentall. I commented
    'It should be the mining company's first priority to explain the mining process, to follow the correct legal processes and to open and maintain a dialogue with interested and concerned parties through the Freguesia.'

    This open approach often is sadly lacking from 'big business'.