10 days is “neither reasonable nor fair”, says civic association (see update below)
The United in Defence of Covas do Barroso (UDCB) association has classified as unfair and unreasonable the 10 working days deadline for the public consultation of 1,776 files on the reformulated lithium mine project, in Boticas.
The reformulated Environmental Impact Study (EIA) of the Barroso mine – which British company Savannah Resources wants to exploit, in the municipality of Boticas, Vila Real district – entered its public consultation phase yesterday (Wednesday, March 22) and runs until April 4.
Savannah Resources announced submission of the revised environmental report and mining requested by Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) last week, explaining that after submission of the documents, the deadline for issuing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is 31 May. The company thus expects the project will finally obtain its environmental licence in 2024.
This is a second attempt to exploit lithium in the rolling hills around Boticas. An initial EIA was in public consultation between April and July 2021 and, in June 2022, the assessment commission gave an unfavourable opinion, at which point APA notified the company to reformulate the project, prior to issuing the EIS.
UDCB was set up since the early days to fight the project, on the basis that it will decimate the local economy and potentially pollute aquifers.
The association said in a statement sent to Lusa today that APA made 1,776 files available on the Participa portal for public consultation during 10 working days, between 22 March and 04 April, which is, in effect, neither a reasonable nor fair timeframe “to read, analyse and submit” a reasoned reaction.
UDCB suggests, like many others have before them, that the whole public consultation process is limited to “symbolic acts… out of step with the enormity of the tasks required for effective participation in the EIA in question”.
“We fear that it will have no other purpose than to validate the project, and the environmental license, which is predicted to be catastrophic for the environment and in default of the will of the population,” it says, reiterating that “British Savannah Resources and its Portuguese subsidiary, Savannah Lithium, have been invested since 2016 in opening the largest open-pit lithium mine in Europe” and that if this materialises, the mine will be located near the villages of Covas do Barroso, Romainho and Muro, which are “consecrated World Agricultural Heritage”.
The association cites the European Council directive 2011/92/EU on environmental assessment which “establishes the minimum time limit of 30 days for public consultation” and also the Aarhus Convention of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), which guarantees the right to environmental information and participation in environmental matters, to which Portugal is a signatory – and which stipulates that this must have a “reasonable period (…) so that the public can prepare and participate effectively throughout the decision-making process”.
“It is unacceptable that the population is kept on the sidelines of the process and that APA refuses to respect the populations right to information and effective participation. Several requests made to APA to make public the documents relating to the EIA assessment process of the Barroso mine were ignored”, the association continues.
In this regard, “communication against Portugal (has been) made by the Montescola Foundation, based in Galicia, to the Aarhus Convention Committee”.
The UDCB has consistently warned of what local people and experts consulted see as the mine’s consequences in terms of “water consumption, noise, changes to the landscape and soil conditions, proximity to the village, open cuts and waste dumps“.
The Barroso mine will have an estimated duration of 17 years (this too is debatable; latest assessment has been that lithium reserves may not last more than a decade) and, according to the non-technical summary, the reformulated project eliminates activities during night time and concentrates the noisiest activities on weekdays between 12:00 and 15:00.
The project has been redesigned to address issues raised by the Barroso mine assessment committee in terms of ecological systems (potential disturbance to species such as the river mussel, the red-crested jay and the natural activity of the Iberian wolf) and water resources (presence of elements of the project on drainage lines, its proximity to the Covas river, possibility of deterioration of surface water quality affecting the objectives set out in the Water Framework Directive”.
Public participation for this project can be found on the ‘participa’ portal: https://participa.pt/pt/consulta/alteracao-ao-projeto-de-ampliacao-da-mina-do-barroso
After this story went online, Boticas municipality also complained of the timeline, and has put a formal request in for an extension of a further 10 working days, stressing that it is “humanly impossible to analyse all the documentation by April 4”, and the subject matter is “too important for the council” to make a reasoned pronouncement in the time made available.