Environmental NGO A Nossa Terra demands government action once and for all over the threat of mining to Picota hillside, in Monchique.
The threat which “somehow came to a standstill” six years ago, is once again menacing populations, and a local economy based on sustainable rural tourism.On the 23th of February 2017, a request by mining company Felmica was published in government newspaper Diário de República, reference: Aviso n.º 2052/2017, DR n.º 39, 2.ª Série de 23 de fevreiro.
This was a repeat of the request Felmica made in 2011 for an area of 161.2 hectares.
This time, the company is citing a smaller area (15.45 hectares), but citizens fear this may be a way of ‘getting a foothold onto the Serra de Monchique’, to be enlarged further along the way.
Also in 2011, exploration company Sifucel requested a similar license for 100 hectares of an area called Carapitotas.
Local citizens, backed by the Câmara de Monchique, mounted an outcry against the bids, which all considered a violation of protection orders in place – namely designation as Reserva Ecologica Nacional REN, Reserva Agricola Nacional and part of the European Natura 2000 network for areas demonstrating outstanding natural flora and fauna.
Opposition at the time was coordinated by members of A Nossa Terra, which have now regrouped to fight again.
A Nossa Terra did not receive any formal reasons from the geology and energy authority (DGEG) as to why the 2011 threats disappeared with no concessions awarded. But the ONG’s position now is one of challenge.
Why is it so hard for the government to decree that Monchique, with all the protection orders in place – as well as many businesses involving rural tourism – is simply off limits to large scale industrial activity? Full stop.
Faced with this latest request from Felmica, A Nossa Terra was instrumental in mounting opposition and encouraging locals to write letters of objection with almost no period of notice.
Within less than a month over 400 letters were sent, and the local Junta de Freguesia de Alferce (parish council) raise an Abaixo Assinado (petition).
Nonetheless, we feel even more efforts must be made.Sifucel has been active in the area (last year) and had to be stopped from illegal excavations by GNR police.
Citizens fear a new Sifucel bid is around the corner. Questions to DGEG have elicited the response that this is a possibility, which in itself is shocking – bearing in mind that the company was acting illegally a year ago.
Back in 2011, A Nossa Terra wrote to both Felmica and Sifucel in an attempt to discuss this situation. They never received any replies.
The mayor of Monchique, Rui André and the Assembly Municipal have made it very clear that they are against any activity that pollutes Monchique, harms public health, wellbeing and the local economy.
There are many reasons why it makes no sense to destroy the Serra de Monchique with heavy-duty industrial exploration.
Tourism of all types is growing in the area. Hotels and ‘alojamentos locais’ (short-term rentals businesses) have been opened in the last few years, bringing with them local employment.
Mining, conversely, would not bring jobs. It would involve skilled personnel brought in from elsewhere.
The Serra is visited by thousands of day-trippers. They come from the coast during the summer season (and out of season) for hiking and All Terrain Biking, horseriding, geocaching, etc.
These forms of tourism are sustainable. In a hundred years’ time the grandchildren of people employed in these businesses will still have the potential to work in Monchique, whereas mining would leave the area heavily polluted and abandoned.
Day-trippers will be put off, as nobody wants to vacation alongside heavy industry.
The impact on nature would be immense and hazardous for local health. Water courses would be polluted – or simply disappear – infrastructure would be destroyed, the dust and noise would simply chase people and animals away.
Existing underground waterlines would be altered or simply disappear.
The Odelouca dam that provides drinking water for a large part of the Algarve would be contaminated with acid fallout from the quarries as it is east of the sites in an area dominated by westerly winds.
The Serra would be transformed from fairy-tale Nature paradise to arid grey desert – all the more devastating for communities that believed they were protected by Statutes valuing the importance of outstanding flora and fauna.
Remember, we are talking about laws that up till now have obliged people to ask for licenses even to construct tanks, in order to collect water to irrigate their land.
How can this level of protection not prohibit mining?
A Nossa Terra speaks for Monchique’s populations, for Monchique’s tourists and for those who may not yet even have discovered this area of outstanding natural beauty. It is appealing for public and political support to try to bring this issue to the national and European stage – and stop the threat of Monchique’s destruction once and for all.