Montalegre locals battle to repel lithium prospection
One of the many images coming out of Montalegre today as locals battle to repel lithium prospection

Montalegre demo focuses on “post lithium mining cemetery”

“The quality of our potatoes will be different, the quality of the smoking and our pigs will be different”

Vehement opponents to plans for a lithium mine in the World Agricultural Heritage site of Montalegre took to the streets today, during the town’s ‘smoked pig fair’, to highlight what they believe will be a “post-mining cemetery” of the area should mining be allowed to move forwards.

Local people pushed wheelbarrows containing mock tombstones marking the natural values ‘at risk’.

“They’re destroying everything”, said one, referring to mining speculators Lusocrecursos Portugal Lithium. “The ore will contaminate the water, there won’t be any agriculture. This is going to be a total desert, and the population will have to leave…”

Morgade cattle farmer José António told Lusa: “They want to take everything away from us, they want to take away our water, everything that we have which is good”, while another local producer claimed: “The quality of our potatoes will be different, the quality of the smoke and our pigs will be different, everything will be worse…” 

This has always been the opinion of communities faced with the prospect of open pit mining and refining infrastructure.

But as Montalegre Com Vida has repeatedly stressed, this is a protected area. Parts of it have World Agricultural Heritage status – the Barroso region, for example is even a Biosphere Reserve. All this is “incompatible” with open-pit mining, say opponents.

The demo came as an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the mine (known as the Romano mine) is being analysed by Portuguese environment agency APA, and at a moment when Minister of Agriculture Maria de Céu Antunes was visiting the town’s smoked pig fair.

Opponents have already highlighted the negative environmental effects likely in terms of water, air, pollution and noise – but after so many months of desperate drought the fact that the mine is reportedly going to use 10,000 cubic metres of water per day (10 times more than the consumption of Montalegre in a month) is cited as “something brutal that we cannot let pass”, Armando Pinto of the Montalegre Com Vida association told Lusa.

Armando Pinto recalled that the local Alto Rabagão (Pisões) dam fell to historic levels during last year’s drought, and even now, despite the “amount of rain that has already fallen” is “not even at half capacity”.

The public consultation for the EIA of the Romano mine project ended in May, with 511 submissions submitted on the portal Participa

This was one of the largest submissions ever recorded for mining projects.

The EIA for the mine envisages a mixed exploration (open-pit and underground), as well as the construction of a refinery for ore processing, concludes Lusa – whose reports do not refer to the background of Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium, a company created at the last minute in order to present this plan, and involving one shareholder cited in “one of the largest fraud’s in EU community funding in this country’s living memory“, according to investigative journalists reporting for Sexta às 9 back in 2019.