Development for west coast sparks controversy

The recent approval by the government of the Vila Formosa Tourist and Environmental Development Project has been criticised by Quercus, the national association of nature conservation.

The area proposed for development is located in Odemira district, close to Vila Nova de Milfontes, in the middle of the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina (PNSAVC), a Protected Birdlife Zone and a Site of Community Importance (SCI). Both are part of Rede Natura 2000, the EU-wide network of nature protection areas.

Quercus has branded the project “dreadful”, citing what it claims is an illegal inclusion of a paragraph in the Temporary Regimen of the Ministers Council Resolution nº 11-B/2011 dated February 4 – nº 8 of the Article 87ª (1) – which established PNSAVC regulations.

According to the association, the paragraph effectively reinstates a scheme proposed by the previous government that expressly benefits developers who over the years have tried to urbanise what little remains of the Alentejo and Vicentina coast, thereby continuing to destroy a unique natural heritage.

Given the strange context that has led to this apparently illegal situation, and the potential impact on the environment the project’s initiation might have, Quercus has appealed to the courts to establish the legality of the proposal and avoid another attempt against the protection of the park, which celebrates its 25th anniversary on July 7.

The association also plans to take the complaint to the European Commission, citing violation of the community legislation enshrined in Rede Natura 2000.

The Vila Formosa Tourist and Environmental Development Project totals 55 hectares of development and is set to comprise a hotel, two tourist villages and an inclusive entertainment area dedicated to sports and themed events.

Quercus argues that the project is not environmentally friendly and represents an act of complicity between developers and public entities to disregard the value of nature. The association also believes a number of illegalities exist. For example:

The project is located within coastal boundaries (up to 2 Km from the coast), where construction of new infrastructure is forbidden.

The habitats of several different species of fauna and flora will be destroyed threatening plants like the Ononis hackelii, and the Cabrera mouse, a rodent endemic to the Iberian Peninsula. The plan to construct moorings for sightseeing boats will have an adverse effect on the Mira estuary and on the local landscape, already built up too much.

The project blueprints do not comply with specific PNSACV planning regulation objectives (for example, containing building expansion outside urban perimeters) and undermine the governing rules of the Alentejo Regional Territory Urban Planning, as well as infringing Municipal Director of Odemira plans.

The process will effectively decommission farmland that is part of the irrigation perimeter of Mira, and convert tracts of land with agricultural potential into an urbanized area.

Alternative locations were not presented in advance during the Environmental Impact Study, whereby different evaluations can be assessed including the zero alternative (choosing not to adopt the project being evaluated). As the project in question falls within a classified area, this is an obligatory process.

Quercus is calling on the public to help fund its attempts to halt the construction of the Vila Formosa Tourist and Environmental Development Project, and is asking for donations, or crowdfunding, to meet the €5,000 legal fee expected in order to present its case in court.

The association is reminding citizens and private entities that this is a campaign where a small donation made by many can be decisive in order to fight against the destruction of the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina.

The campaign is being organised in partnership with the Naturlink and Indiegogo (international initiative of environmental crowdfunding – Naturfunding) websites.

Environmental programme for natural park

Meanwhile, in what appears to be a move to appease environmentalists, an environmental programme designed to preserve and enhance the flora and fauna of the Costa Vicentina Natural Park (PNSAVC) on the south west Algarve and Alentejo coastline is to be set in motion at a cost of €330,000.

The project involves building a seed bank of the native species of the park, which is a protected zone, storing them and then planting in various zones to preserve the indigenous beauty of the region.

The programme, planned to take place over a 450-day period, follows a public tender published in Diário da República this month and the cost will be met by the south west coastal environmental protectionsociety, Sociedade Polis Litoral Sudoeste.

The society, which oversees the coastal districts of Vila do Bispo, Aljezur,Sines and Odemira, envisages a total investmentof about €40 million in the area and includes €5 million for the recuperation and protection of the coastal eco-systems.