New civic association calls for elections boycott over plans for open-pit lithium mine

Association Montalegre Com Vida (Montalegre with Life) is the latest civic protest against government-backed plans, this time for an open-pit lithium mine covering three parishes in Vila Real.

Organisers are so adamant that the mine will blight locals’ everyday lives that they are appealing for people to abstain when the country casts its votes in the European elections on Sunday.

Said spokesperson Armando Pinto: “We making people aware that they shouldn’t vote. These are elections for an EU that we know is behind this process with our government”, he told Lusa.

Montalegre Com Vida is one of a growing number of civic groups that have rallied against the recent institutional zeal for lithium mining.

Licences are being awarded ‘left, right and centre’ with the government’s contention that the mining will “not compromise public health or the environment”.

Talking in Brussels last month, economy minister Pedro Siza Vieira announced the launching of eight new projects this year “beyond those that are already being exploited”.

Denying populations have anything to worry about, he said “natural heritage is one of the most important capitals that this country has thus the use of mineral resources should always safeguard respect for the environment”.

Among the government’s plans is “the creation of conditions for the refining and processing of lithium” – a move that would generate greater income for the country than simply exporting raw lithium (click here).

Siza Vieira stressed the importance of citizens “participating” in the process, adding that “there is no disrespect in Europe, let alone Portugal, for the health of populations or for the environment”.

Days after his words, a people’s group in the Alto Minho was celebrating because its actions had forced Australian mining company Fortescue to pull out of its project for so-called protected areas within the Peneda-Gerês national park.

But it was clear that this is not an end to Fortescue’s interest in Portugal, nor possibly an end to threats to the Peneda-Gerês park (click here).

Now Montalegre com Vida is hoping for its own ‘success’, despite the fact that the contract between the government and Lusorecursos to extract lithium throughout three parishes (Morgade, Carvalhais e Rebordelo) has already been signed.

Armando Pinto believes “it is not too late”, referring to recent news about a nearby mine in Romano (Sepeda) which has caused what he described as “irreparable damages”: uninterrupted work, noise, the destruction of environmental heritage with impact to the local dam ‘which supplies water to the homes of various boroughs”.

“We want to defend our land”, Pinto told Lusa which has interviewed local parish council bosses, who are all fully behind their electorate.

Said president of Morgade parish, José Nogueira, the mine is earmarked for territory with UN world agricultural heritage and UNESCO biosphere reserve status.

“If the mine goes ahead, we will probably lose both”, he said.

But more to the point, Nogueira, like others living in the area, is concerned with the potential impacts on water resources and public health.

Says Lusa, Lusorecursos has offered Montalegre a 500 million euroinvestment plan to create “an industrial unit”, but Nogueira explains, his area does not want “jobs and investment at any cost”.

A not-so-distant past involving the mining of wolfram in the area has also left its mark.

Said Domingos Pinto Alves, president of Morgade’s directive council, the mine “left nothing for the parish but illnesses and a land disembowelled.”

Contacted by Lusa, Lusorecursos has said it doesn’t want to give any statements.

The company is in the process of elaborating an environmental impact study which will “define the rules of intervention”.

Before mining can start, however, the parish councils and the municipal council will have their say, and this far the way ahead is looking exceedingly bumpy.

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