Aljezur citizens’ fight against glyphosate: court rules in favour

Ruling “creates precedent for management of protected areas without contamination from herbicides and poisons”

Another ‘David v Goliath’ environmental battle – this time over a municipality’s insistence on pressing ahead with a project using glyphosate, in spite of citizens’ appeals for ‘another solution’ – has shown that David really can win when facts are on his side.

In a preliminary ruling last week, the Administrative and Fiscal Court of Loulé took what the Arriba association – standing for the association for the defence of Costa Vicentina – describes as “a preventive stance against the project for valorisation and requalification of the River of Aljezur”.

This project created a storm last year when locals (of all nationalities) realised it involved various treatments along the river with a product containing glyphosate – the herbicide that increases cancer risks and has been the subject of numerous ‘landmark’ court actions.

Banding together under the Arriba banner, hopes were for constructive dialogue with the local council, to come up with a more environmentally sustainable solution.

It was not to be, however. Thus in December last year, Arriba took the legal route – and has now heard the judge agrees with them.

Calling the decision a “win-win for the environment, citizens and the association”, a press release recognises this case has set a precedent “for the management of protected areas without contamination from herbicides and poisons”.

According to João Vilela, Arriba’s president: “Justice has made itself heard and served the  citizens and the environment by opening doors for dialogue, transparency and good  governance. We all want the best for our rivers, for the territory and for the environment. To  wish otherwise is to wish ill for everyone. At a time when the word SUSTAINABILITY is a hot topic, let us not forget that sustainability is only acquired in the long-term, and is not a short-term political victory. Our actions today secure the future we will leave to the coming  generations.”

The ruling essentially established that:

  • projects in protected areas like Costa Vicentina should be subject to environmental assessment. Indeed, the court went even further, says Arriba, indicating this project “should have been submitted to a prior assessment” to have been made by APA (the Portuguese environment agency) with a view to deciding whether or not an environmental impact assessment was necessary. It should also have taken into account the opinion delivered by the ICNF (forestries and nature institute). As Arriba explains: The ICNF itself questioned the conditions of application of this herbicide asking the municipal council of Aljezur to  present alternative approaches to the use of glyphosate. These alternatives were never  presented by the municipality” but, even so, work was started (at some considerable financial expense).
  • the use of of the herbicide in question carried an ‘implication of risk’ (albeit uncertain): “although authorised, glyphosate has been the  subject of considerable public debate”, explains the press release, “as recognised by the European Commission, when faced  with the European Citizens’ Initiative “Banning glyphosate and protecting people and the environment from toxic pesticides”
  • The method of cutting (bamboo) cane, considered an invasive species, should be limited and the use of heavy machinery for this purpose is not permitted. “The use of this type of machinery in previous interventions had disastrous effects that resulted in the indiscriminate cutting of native vegetation, which also caused damage to local fauna”, says Arriba. 

The association’s press release goes on to recall that “this project was the target of an environmental fund and had the approval of a support of €200,000, under the Economic and Social Stabilization Programme. Now it remains to be seen how much of this public investment was wasted due  to lack of governance”.  

It also remains to be seen whether Aljezur town council appeals the decision, which sees it liable for the costs of the court proceedings.

The Resident has been in touch with the council and hopes to receive an answer soon.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com