Crucial Portuguese wetland still in danger as developers ignore questions
Empty presentation merely raises more questions as Finalgarve present their “plans” for Lagoa dos Salgados!
February 2013. A public presentation by the project “Praia Grande’s Environmental Park” was, according to ‘Friends of Lagoa dos Salgados’, in actual fact merely a marketing exercise to brighten the murky image that the mega-development has earned to date. It was a declaration of intentions, but empty of any meaningful content.
More contentiously, no questions were allowed from the large number of the public that attended.
This public presentation was Finalgarve’s (Finalgarve is the developer) initiative and had the support of the Silves County Council. From what was said and presented in this presentation, we, the association known as “Friends of the Lagoa dos Salgados“, would like to stress the following:
The Developer’s plans put forward for the so-called “Praia Grande Environmental Park” are, in the majority, already part of the Management Plan for the Lagoa dos Salgados, which is in actual fact a project of ARH Algarve (Algarve Regional Hydrographic Management). This project has already been approved by the company “Águas do Algarve” back in October 2011, and has as its main purpose the completion of the sewerage network and the management of the water flow within the lagoon. The one million euro investment announced in Finalgarve’s presentation for this so-called park, is the already budgeted project of Águas do Algarve, which not is not completed at the moment due to this company’s inaction to date.
Once again a high emphasis was stressed of the economic aspect of this project’s ability to generate employment for the region. There is little to add to this erroneous assumption. If this was really a reality rather than wishful thinking then the Algarve would not have the unemployment rate that it endures at present, bearing in mind all the developments already in existence throughout the region, many of them closed and bankrupt, as can easily be seen if one looks across the water to the Herdade dos Salgados bang next door to the lagoon.
The presentation also mentioned the creation of a “Protected Area of Private Initiative”, which has already been discussed with the ICNF (Nature and Forest Conservation Institute). Such an initiative is welcomed, but a question remains: what land will be included in the future protected area? Bearing in mind that a large part of the lagoon and the wetlands of Alcantarilha are public domain and other property included on the map presented is NOT the property of Finalgarve.
Environment Impact Assessment – News to everybody
We also learned that the Environmental Impact Assessment of the mega touristic project of Praia Grande has already been delivered to the Portuguese Environment Agency. This news was the biggest surprise of the day as it was only on the 8th January 2013 that the Secretary of State for the Environment made it public that he would be calling for an EIA to take place. This casts doubt both upon the impartiality of the EIA itself and also upon the communication skills and capacity of the Ministry.
To sum up, the campaigners believe that the presentation was merely a marketing manoeuver to throw sand in the eyes of the thousands and thousands of concerned citizens and local companies and associations that have legitimate concerns as to the viability of the project as a whole and to the good intentions of the company in particular. It was at the end of the day an empty declaration of intentions, void of any technical information and detail.
No questions farce
The presentation descended into farce when no questions or comments were allowed and the company chairman and the local County Council chairman almost ran out of the meeting. Besides the lack of courtesy this involved to the many people who had travelled far to see the presentation, many important aspects of the proposal remain unclear (who, where, how, how much and when?).
As a last note about the “Praia Grande Environmental Park”, (with the exception of the imminent activities under the Management Plan of the Lagoa dos Salgados promoted by the ARH Algarve), everything seems to point towards this area being a reproduction of another Environmental Park close by, that of Vilamoura. When this was undertaken the same promises were made and this presentation is a carbon copy of that, with lofty intentions and promises of sustainability and the influx of employment and riches for the region. Today however it has no habitat management, the interpretation center has been closed down and converted into office space, local activities do not exist, there is little or no surveillance of the park and hunters legally use bird hides as shooting hides.
With all of the above in mind, the Friends of the Lagoa dos Salgados continue to demand that Lagoa dos Salgados is classified, duly protected, and efficiently managed, and that the development that it is planned for the area is profoundly reviewed.
This threat was dramatically highlighted six months ago with the grant of building permission over an area of 247 hectares, (more than 600 acres), bordering the lagoon. The building permission allowed for a luxury mega-tourist complex of hotels, resorts, and golf courses that were scheduled to break ground in April 2013, but the developers had used loop-holes to sidestep regulations and steam-roller through the permission.
This was enough to galvanize local feeling and an on-line petition was started by a local bird watching guide, Frank McClintock, to provide a voice for those opposed to the plan and to highlight the continuing lack of any protection for the lagoon’s unique habitat.
The petition has been such a success that it has turned what was a purely local affair into Portugal’s largest environmental campaign for over 30 years, garnering support from all of Portugal’s leading environmental NGOs, and the first 21,000 signatures were handed in on a CD to the Minister for the Environment during the first week in January.
Sign the petition
There has been an on-line petition set up to persuade the Government to change its mind, rescind the permission and grant SPA status in order to preserve this habitat for future generations. You are urged to sign it here and to share it on Facebook and Twitter.