A recent decision of the Supreme Administrative Court on the proposal to build a tourist mega-enterprise in Lagoa dos Salgados «does not call into question the creation of a Natural Reserve in that location», as proposed by the Institute for Nature and Forest Conservation (ICNF) and «largely supported by various sectors of civil society", argues the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA), in a statement.
However, this ruling «leaves the future of this important ecosystem in the hands of the Algarve Regional Coordination and Development Commission».
Handed down on September 7th, the decision recognizes that the declaration of non-compliance (according to which the construction plan does not comply with mandatory environmental safeguards) was issued by CCDR Algarve after the legal deadline.
Thus, under the law, the plan will have received tacit approval.
However, SPEA considers that “the ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court leaves the door open for the CCDR Algarve to proceed with the revocation or amendment of this tacitly favorable Decision on the Environmental Conformity of the Execution Project (DCAPE), as long as it substantiates and complies with legal precepts, recognizing that it will be up to the ICNF to evaluate the compliance with the Environmental Impact Declaration (DIA), specifically, in particular the measures to protect the affected ecological values».
«It is regrettable that CCDR – Algarve missed a deadline in a process of this nature and importance, but this is not a significant obstacle to the creation of the future Lagoa dos Salgados Natural Reserve”, says Domingos Leitão, executive director of SPEA.
Faced with this situation, 10 regional and national Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) now say they hope that «CCDR Algarve will begin, without delay, a process of revoking or amending the tacitly favorable DCAPE, based on the public interest of protection of endangered species and in compliance with the conditions of the DIA, which the promoters' plan effectively did not comply with».
If, by chance, the promoters of the tourist mega-enterprise ask for a license to start the works, these NGOs hope that «the Municipality of Silves will not issue the aforementioned license, since there is an obligation to comply with the real conditions of the DIA, the which according to the CCDR Algarve and the ICNF was not guaranteed in the promoters' plan", adds the statement.
There is also the possibility of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Action taking the reins of the process and «expropriating the owners in the name of the greater public interest of protecting natural values and creating the Natural Reserve».
In this scenario, the compensation to be paid will be decided by a court, "but it will not have the astronomical values mentioned in some media", as Sul Informação, guarantees SPEA.
The action in question dates back to 2017, when the promoters presented a DCAPE with the plan's DIA in order to obtain licensing for the construction of the mega-project's general infrastructure.
It turns out that this plan «did not comply with the conditions of the DIA» and «did not comply with mandatory environmental safeguards». As such, it obtained a non-compliance decision from CCDR Algarve, but which was only issued after the legal deadline had passed.
Faced with a declaration of non-compliance with his plan, «the prosecutor used this weakness to judicially reverse the situation in his favor».
In 2018, it filed an action with the Administrative and Fiscal Court of Sintra, to annul the CCDR Algarve's declaration of non-compliance. He lost the case in the first instance and appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court, which ruled in favor, in the sentence now known.
The ONGAs draw attention to what the ruling says: «this, in fact, recognizes the illegality of the declaration of non-compliance issued by CCDR Algarve, considering it invalid, but also denies the promoter the request for recognition that environmental safeguards were complied with. required by the DIA, in particular the protection of the species algarvian linaria, since it considers that this is a judgment of an administrative nature that is prohibited to the Court».
What's more, «it ends up not accepting the prosecutors' requests for the Court to decide to prevent the CCDR Algarve from revoking or annulling the tacitly favorable DCAPE».
Finally, the ONGAs recall, in their statement, that «there is a process that has been taking place in the Loulé Administrative and Fiscal Court since 2014, to annul the DIA itself and the Detailed Plan of Praia Grande, which the promoters completely omitted in the process that they filed with the Sintra TAF».
«If the CCDR Algarve does not do its work and the Municipality of Silves allows work to begin, the ONGA are ready to place a precautionary measure to prevent the work from starting, and creating faits accompli and irreparable damage against the superior public interest and nature conservation», conclude the 10 NGOs.
What are the 10 Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations?
- ALMARGEM, Association for the Defense of Cultural and Environmental Heritage of the Algarve
- A ROCHA – Christian Association for the Study and Defense of the Environment
- Portuguese Nature Association (ANP/WWF)
- Spatial Planning and Environmental Study Group (GEOTA)
- FAPAS – Portuguese Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity
- League for Nature Protection (LPN)
- QUERCUS – National Association for Nature Conservation
- Portuguese Society of Ecology (SPECO)
- Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA)
- ZERO – Sustainable Terrestrial System Association