Saturday, August 1st, 2020
Lisbon. Eight organisations for the defence of the environment have joined forces and are taking the Portuguese Government to court to prevent the plans to build Montijo Airport from going ahead. With the backing of the NGO ClientEarth, an International Environmental Law charity, SPEA, ANP/WWF Portugal, A Rocha, FAPAS, GEOTA, LPN, ZERO and Almargem have filed an administrative lawsuit at the Lisbon District Administrative Court, requesting the annulment of the favourable Declaration of Environmental Impact issued by the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA).
The organisations argue that the authorities did not properly consider the impacts that the proposed Montijo Airport would have on the Tagus Estuary, a nationally and internationally protected nature area, and on the surrounding populations. They point to the fact that no joint impact assessment was carried out across the whole of the Lisbon region, relating to the extension of Humberto Delgado Airport and the building of the complementary airport in Montijo, due to the lack of a Strategic Environmental Assessment. They also consider that the project poses a threat to the region’s own sustainable socio-economic development.
Birds and protected habitats in the Tagus Estuary will suffer permanent harm if the airport is built. The safety of aircraft, people and birds will also be threatened, due to the risk of collisions between birds and planes, while the health of people and natural spaces will be affected by the pollution resulting from the increased air, road and river traffic. It is also estimated that more than 10,000 people will be significantly affected by the high noise levels.
The Portuguese authorities have not undertaken a credible environmental impact assessment and instead have simply proposed “attempting to move” the birds that would be affected and compensating for the negative effects of the airport by restoring marginal areas of the Special Protection Zone. The measures proposed for compensating and mitigating the impact on avifauna and the protected area are, in fact, simply an attempt to conceal the systematic failures in the conservation and management of this area, a responsibility that the country has assumed because of the national and international importance of the estuary.
“It is not permissible to proceed with a project of this scale and importance without properly comparing alternatives through a Strategic Environmental Assessment, without properly assessing the impacts it will cause, and without a meaningful debate about what we want in terms of the development and organisation of the entire region,” says Joaquim Teodósio, the head of the Terrestrial Conservation Department at SPEA (the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds). The project has been highly criticised at both national and international levels. In Portugal, the public consultation about the project had close on 1,200 individual and collective participations, of which only ten were clearly in favour. Internationally, nearly 40,000 people have signed a petition against the venture, launched by BirdLife Holland (founded in 1899, with 143,000 members), concerned that the airport constitutes a serious threat to the Dutch national bird, the black-tailed godwit (on the Endangered List). This species is protected by law in Europe, and its Dutch population, which has been the target of huge conservation efforts in that country, passes through the Tagus Estuary in the course of its annual migration.
“Montijo Airport could have consequences far beyond Portuguese borders. Failure to consider these consequences will cause irreversible damage to Nature, people and the climate, far beyond the Tagus Estuary,” says Soledad Gallego, the lawyer for ClientEarth. “The Portuguese authorities have not considered that this project would negatively affect the integrity of this irreplaceable wetland: a clear violation of the EU and National Nature Protection Laws, which cannot go unpunished.” With this court action, environmental protection organisations hope to definitively correct a mistake made by the Portuguese Government that would cause serious damage to global biodiversity, the quality of life of the populations living in the region, and the country’s reputation.