Yesterday's political earthquake has moved the landscape for communities fighting against mining projects. Image: Miguel Pereira da Silva/ Lusa
Yesterday's political earthquake has moved the landscape for communities fighting against mining projects. Image: Miguel Pereira da Silva/ Lusa

Montalegre files injunction to stop lithium exploration in municipality

… while nine associations demand end to lithium exploration full stop

The investigation that prompted the prime minister’s resignation has seen Montalegre town council seize the moment to file an injunction against lithium exploration in the municipality.

Montalegre’s battle against this ‘deal’ forged between Lusorecursos and the government has been nothing short of heroic. The ‘Montalegre com Vida’ campaign was one of the first to set up against the threat of mining, in this case in an area of outstanding agricultural heritage.

Last night, the “Montalegre Com Vida” association sent out a statement in which it stressed the “lack of transparency, coherence, respect for the population and serious threat to the integrity of the underground systems of the Barroso region”, demanding the cancellation of the Romano project – and today the municipality has announced that it will be filing an injunction against lithium exploration in the area “to stop the Romano mine”.

Over social media, members of Montalegre com Vida are calling for “immediate suspension and investigation of ALL mining licences that passed through the hands of (João) Galamba!” while nine organisations have called for an end to ALL mining licences in Portugal, citing yesterday’s bombshell as proof of cronysim (see below).

It is looking like the PS pretentions for energetic transition are starting to collapse like a child’s Jenga tower (see update).

In Montalegre, mayor Fátima Fernandes has told Lusa: “We’re going to file an administrative action and an injunction in court to stop the Romano mine” – stressing that the municipality has always been against the project because “we believe it brings nothing good to our territory”.

Fátima Fernandes says she has “complete faith in the justice system“, which she believes will “make its way and find out what needs to be found out“.

As reports today have explained, both mining projects carry significant risks to local communities, to the extent that ‘compensation and mitigation measures’ were insisted upon – but none ever satisfied local people.

As the mayor has told Lusa, the Romano mine would have “very negative impact on the water from the Alto Rabagão dam, an asset she considers essential for public consumption, animal feed and the irrigation of crops and pasture.

There are also the risks mining would pose to the Iberian wolf (inhabiting the area) – and the insistence on evicting people who live close to the area chosen for mining

“It cannot be considered normal to evict” people who live in the area where the mine will be located, she said.

“And we have a much bigger project here, which is the fact that we are a World Agricultural Heritage Site. That’s what can project us into the future. We’re sure of that”.

It was only two months ago, that the Romano lithium mine obtained a favourable conditional licence from Portuguese Environment Agency (APA), which imposed the allocation of royalties to the municipality of Montalegre, compensatory measures for local populations and minimisation measures for the Iberian wolf.

Lusorecursos has already said that it intends to start mining in 2027. But now, this is all ‘up in the air’, with local people committed to the fact that their interests must win the day.

“From the outset, the (Montalegre com Vida) association pointed to the “lack of transparency” in the process”, writes Lusa. “The Romano mining concession was signed on 28 March 2019 between the Directorate-General for Energy and Geology (DGEG) and Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium, a company set up three days before the contract was signed”.

This, and the fact that among the seven men arrested so far is APA president Nuno Lacasta, is the power beneath the wings of dissenters, who want to see their heritage preserved, not squandered for the short-term economic gain of a few.

“From APA and the government we don’t expect anything”, said Montalegre com Vida’s Armando Pinto in September. “But we can appeal to the national courts, and the European courts…”

Yesterday’s political earthquake has changed that plan somewhat. The nine associations demanding the scrapping of all lithium projects – those granted, in the process of being granted, etc. – include Montalegre Com Vida, and Unidos em Defesa de Covas do Barroso, (which has fought so hard against British-based company Savannah Resources). Other partners in the call are Povo e Natureza Barroso, Minas Não, Unidos pela Natureza Associação de Desenvolvimento de Dornelas, Extinction Rebellion Portugal, Unidos pela Natureza Associação Ambiental, Movimento Não às Minas and Grupo de Investigação Territorial.

As their joint-statement explains, the companies “awarded the main mining contracts (for example, Lusorecursos in the Romano mine, and Savannah Resources in the Barroso mine) have no mining experience”, which has led to “suspicions about the quality of this business”.

“We would also like to take this opportunity to call on the various political parties to join anti-mining movements and challenge the mining projects in Barroso, as well as the Mining Development Plan currently being implemented,” they add.

Says Lusa: “For the associations and movements, “there is no doubt that the contempt shown by the government towards the legitimate contestation by the populations shows that this process does not have the best interests of the people, the environment or the country in mind“.

UPDATE: As this text went up online, the mayor of Boticas confirmed that his municipality also is putting the final touches on a lawsuit “which aims to halt the progress of the Barroso mine”, in spite of its conditional approval. Fernando Queiroga has described the “brutality of the area granted (for exploration) by the Directorate-General for Energy and Geology (DGEG) without prior consultation with the municipality, council or other organisations“.

“We were surprised, from 70 hectares to more than 500 hectares, without prior consultation with the municipality of Boticas,” he tells Lusa.

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