Battling Ria Formosa islanders present ‘plan for a future’ to Environment minister

In another extraordinary week in the titanic battle waged by Ria Formosa islanders, two busloads of determined protestors left Olhão in the early hours of Tuesday morning, destination Sagres Bird Festival.

The trip came after an eagle-eyed member of SOS Ria Formosa’s campaign team saw a news clip saying the minister of the environment – who last week signed off on the proposed demolition of 81 properties on the communities of Farol and Hangares – was due to be there at 9.30am to release a Booted Eagle back to the wild.

João Pedro Matos Fernandes came to his decision by reneging on a government promise to consult islanders, their associations and town council leaders.

Thus, SOS Ria Formosa decided it was time to put the boot on a new foot.

Armed with their own carefully-worded proposal, they drove in convoy across the Algarve and for the last few kilometres even got a GNR escort.

Posting news online hours later, the group said their “efforts and persistence” won the day.

They managed a “mini meeting with the minister” who assured them he will be making “adjustments” to the government’s plans..

It was the first ray of sunshine in five dark days since Matos Fernandes unveiled a plan that islanders and other critics say was “hurried, incomplete” and actually raises far more questions than it answers.

Central to the plan, unsurprisingly, was the demolition of 81 homes which Matos Fernandes described as “in almost their totality, very poorly built, practically shacks”, and at “serious risk” from rising sea levels.

The fact that almost none of the properties were shacks, and certainly none appear imminently threatened by rising sea levels (as the nearest shore is on the side of the Ria that registers no changes in tide) was shown in detail to visiting Bloco de Esquerda MP João Vasconcelos over the weekend (clic here).

Islanders explained what they called the “lies and hypocrisy” behind the government’s plan (engineered by environment agency Polis Litoral), and Vasconcelos pledged to plead their case in parliament this week.

But the fact that islanders managed to buttonhole Matos Fernandes could be pivotal.

He has now gone back to Lisbon with “the other side to the story” – the side put by people who have lived their lives on the Ria, know its problems intimately, and do not think the demolition of their homes will change anything beyond ruining lives.

As Vasconcelos heard on Saturday, a plan for a private marina and VIP resort is almost certainly behind the demolition zeal.

A maquette detailing construction ideas was seen at the famous PSD summer Festa do Pontal held in Quarteira in 2014, though since then it has been kept under wraps, he was told.

Thus, it is now case of ‘wait and see’. Islanders say they hope lines of communication with Matos Fernandes will remain open, while officially the government plan for demolitions is due to take place on October 28.

Meantime, Faro Câmara has once again passed a motion demanding suspension of the demolitions. Votes in favour came from the PSD/ CDS-PP majority, votes against from the PS. The CDU communist member abstained.

These results are telling as last year it was the PS who voted against demolitions, nationally and regionally, and the right-wing PSD/CDS-PP who voted for.

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