The Portuguese Environmental Agency (APA) has “conditionally approved” a revised version of a project to expand Portimão Port’s navigation channel to welcome larger cruise ships.
This finally clears the way for the Sines and Algarve Port Administration (APS) to carry out the controversial Arade River dredging work needed.
The news has come as a blow to the parish council and citizens of Ferragudo, who celebrated in 2020 when the first draft of the project received an environmental thumbs down.
At the time, the commission in charge of evaluating the project’s environmental impact concluded that it would have “several negative and very negative consequences” on the river’s underwater heritage, the local fishing sector, and nearby beaches.
But according to APA, this new version has only received its blessing – in the form of a ‘Título Único Ambiental’ (TUA), the tool APS needed to move forward with the project – because it has undergone a series of changes to minimise its impact.
These include the reduction of the width of the port’s channels to “reduce the volume of dredging due to be carried out” and to move the dredging area around 60 metres away from the walls of Ferragudo’s iconic São João do Arade Castle.
Changes have also been made to make sure the project does not interfere with the Ferragudo Marina project, “if it eventually is carried out.”
A series of conditions have also been imposed by APA.
APS must ensure that the works do not resort to placing rock armour at Ferragudo’s Angrinha beach, adding that any measures taken must always respect the “cultural values and the scenery and heritage” of the area.
Público newspaper has also reported that APS will pay for a €3 million archaeological scan of the riverbed – one of the ‘demands’ made by APA in order to allow the project to move forward.
José Apolinário, president of the regional development commission (CCDR-Algarve), said the archaeological works are due to last between one and two years.
Step forward for tourism or step back for Ferragudo?
Apolinário has welcomed the approval of the project, describing it as “good news for tourism, for the sustainable use of the ocean and for the sea economy of the Algarve region.”
He also said that the conditions have been created to make Portimão port one of the standout ports in the cruise ship tourism sector.
But not everyone sees things this way.
From the very start, the people of Ferragudo have seen the project as a threat to the quaintness of the old fishing village.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page on Saturday, the parish council of Ferragudo expressed its “deep indignation” regarding the decision and lamented that “once again the environmental, cultural and fishing values of the populations of the left bank of the Arade river were not taken into account.”
“Ferragudo is mourning and so is the power of local government, which is why the parish council will meet extraordinarily to evaluate the TUA,” the parish council said, adding that other measures will also be discussed to protect Ferragudo and its population.
It also guaranteed that it will be in contact with Lagoa council, CCDR-Algarve, Algarve-elected MPs and Parliament, which it says has yet to evaluate a citizen-backed petition against the project.