Heartbreak among 50 families due to be forced from their homes to make way for a new hydroelectric dam has seen the local council challenge power giant Iberdrola to start playing fair.
“These people are not being treated with the care that they deserve”, mayor of Ribeira do Baixo João Noronha told reporters.
Iberdrola’s derisive ‘expropriations’ ahead of work on the Daivões dam are tantamount to the expulsion of hard-working folk, many of whom spent their lives working in France to afford to return to the community of their birthplace, he said.
And while the electrical company may think it has all the permissions it needs to start work in the New Year, the council has its own ideas: involving what TSF radio describes as a ‘boycott of work by refusing trucks’ access’.
“We can create difficulties”, stressed mayor Noronha. “For the work to go ahead, lots of traffic will have to circulate through our territory and here the municipality is still in charge…”
Noronha’s stand will see a meeting take place next week in which representatives of Iberdrola and APA, Portugal’s environmental agency, will be present.
His idea is to get Iberdrola to fund a new residential quarter, on land to be ‘ceded by the council’ in the centre of the village capable of taking 24 houses and seeing families rehoused with dignity.
Right now, Iberdrola’s ‘best offer’ to those unable to find alternative accommodation is ‘two years in a container’, with no outside space..
Money accepted by some has been patently well below market values.
There are those that flatly refuse to budge, while others say “why should we spend the little we have trying to fight?”
But the issue isn’t simply ‘rehousing’. As one woman refusing to leave her home representing a lifetime’s work explains: “Where am I going to plant my onions, my potatoes, cabbages and beans? Where can I raise my chickens?”
Iberdrola’s ‘offers’ do not extend to orchard spaces.
Thus mayor Noronha is riding into battle.
Contacted by TSF, Iberdrola has so far declined any kind of interview. A statement however stresses that the company has “sought to agilise an adequate and fair process of rehousing for all cases, offering additional measures of compensation (containers for people to live in for up to two years) to ‘a small number’ of families involved.
The company ‘guarantees that 75% of the cases have involved amicable agreements’.
This contradicts texts elsewhere in the press, which claim only six families have accepted Iberdrola’s terms, 19 are ‘in court’ and another 24 are ‘at an impasse’.
For outsiders, the drama playing out around the construction of the dam – one of three in the Tamega River hydropower complex – is just one of the horrors facing the region: the other being open-pit mining of lithium.
Citizens right groups and environmentalists are bristling.
The way forwards hinges very much on the meeting scheduled by mayor Noronha for next Monday.