Environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes has ridden into direct conflict with Ria Formosa islanders, days after he assured parliament that decisions over the future of the fishing community’s homes were being considered “one by one”.
Now, says the minister, 81 homes will be summarily demolished in one month’s time.
Talking to Diário de Notícias which published the story online at 1am today (Thursday), he said mass demolitions were just “part of a plan” that elsewhere will see the creation of a new fishing community on Faro island.
He stressed all 81 properties to be bulldozed are “illegal” and “of poor quality”. None are primary residences, he says, and they are all situated in areas of “risk” (ie close to the shoreline) on Farol and Hangares nuclei.
Indications that much of what was said does not stack up came when DN explained that of the 101 families that require rehousing, two groups will be identified: those whose lives are connected to fishing, and those whose day-to-day business is not.
According to DN, the split is roughly 50-50.
“In both cases, an agreement is being forged between Faro council and the IHRU (institute of housing and urban rehabilitation) which will allow the construction of new homes”.
In other words, the 101 families (living in 81 homes) will see their properties torn down in less than four weeks, but will have to wait for the construction of a new neighbourhood before they are rehoused.
DN explains that homeowners who have no connections to fishing “will be sent to live in a neighbourhood being constructed near Faro airport, on a plot in the area of Montenegro that has already been purchased by Sociedade Polis Ria Formosa”.
The plan will cost €3 million, says the paper.
Meantime, the fishing families “will continue to live on Faro island, in a new community” – again one that has yet to see even the first signs of construction get underway.
“This is an important project that will improve the living conditions of these people and remove them from areas of risk”, said the minister, adding that this is his “greatest concern” and that the new plan is “very different from what was envisaged earlier”.
The truth however is that the announcement is all about plans. There are no homes for the families to move into in the immediate future, and assurances that there will be eventually do little to convince islanders.
Issuing a retort online this morning as a delegation travels to Lisbon to face a parliamentary hearing on the struggle, SOS Ria Formosa affirms that islanders are “vehemently opposed” to the plan as it shows a transparent lack of honesty, it exceeds even legal requirements under Public Maritime Law and it appears to have been hatched-up with backroom deals to give the boroughs of Faro and Olhão ‘compensatory infrastructures’ – a bridge in the first case, and smarter riverside area in the second.
For now, it is a case of waiting to see what transpires in Lisbon today – but as national media floods SOS Ria Formosa with calls and requests for new interviews, one thing is clear: the next few weeks will be messy.
Islanders have said time and again that they will fight demolition plans to the very last moment, and this now looks exactly like what will happen.
MAYORS CITE “TOTAL INCOHERENCE” AS THEY TOO COMPLAIN “NO ONE CONSULTED US”
Reacting to Matos Fernandes’ news today, Faro council boss Rui Bacalhau told Lusa that the government has acted “without consulting the the region’s mayors”.
“The minister said he would not make a decision without hearing us”, Bacalhau added, revealing that he was called to a meeting at the environment ministry on Monday, “to allegedly dialogue”, but then told that “a decision had already been taken”.
It shows a “total incoherence” in a matter in which the mayors have very different ideas, he said.
Bacalhau maintains all islanders should be treated equally – instead of some losing their homes, while other settlements are expanded – and adds that as far as he is concerned, “there are no environmental risks” in the areas earmarked for demolitions.