One of the many images coming out of protests to Savannah Resources' plan for an open pit mine in Covas do Barroso. Facebook / Unidos em Defesa de Covas do Barroso

Public pressure wins 10-day extension on bitterly contested lithium mine consultation

Barroso mine project battles for permission

Portuguese environment agency APA has bowed to the public outcry over the time given for people to say what they think of the reformulated plan to mine lithium in the rolling hills around Covas do Barroso, Boticas.

The deadline for submission on the public participation portal has been extended by another 10 days.

Those fighting this bitterly-contested project by British company Savannah Resources concede the extension may not in the end make a great deal of difference – but at least authorities have shown “some recognition that public participation is not simply a formality”.

Civic association “Unidos em defesa de Covas do Barroso” urges all those who haven’t given their opinions, to do so now.

This battle is very much a poster campaign for other communities threatened by lithium exploration.

As online newspaper Mapa explains, “this entire process has shown a total lack of consideration for the desires of the local population and clear disinterest for the preservation of biodiversity”.

Mapa could be cited as ‘partial’, but mainstream daily Público recently published a long text on the warnings/ recommendations of UN special rapporteur on Human Rights and the environment who sees the mine as a “sacrifice zone” meaning an area of “where profits and private interests” are allowed to take priority “to the detriment of human rights and the environment”.

David R. Boyd’s focus on “sacrifice zones” came in the context that they should be avoided – and when this for any reason has not been succeeded, they must be identified and restored.

Portugal deserves credit for leading the world in recognising the right to a healthy environment, for ending coal use and accelerating renewable energy production, and for rejecting in law offshore oil and gas development across the country, including near the Algarve,” he explains. “It would be difficult to reconcile that record of leadership with the approval of a huge open-pit mine in a community that is a globally recognized example of sustainable development.”

And this is the nub of the fight against the mine at Covas do Barroso.

Lusa reports today that the deadline for APA to issue the Environmental Impact Declaration (DIA) that Savannah Resources needs is May 31. Savannah has already said it expects to be successful, and able to obtain its environmental license next year. All this in spite of the “significant unfavourable impacts” listed by State news agency Lusa as “ landscape affectation, mainly associated with the installation of the plant, the rock removal in the quarries and the filling of the waste rock dumps, also in the affectation of water resources, with changes in drainage patterns and hydromorphological conditions, and in the social component, due to the need for land acquisition and economic displacement”.

There is so much more that could be said, and has been by detractors.

Positive impacts are listed by Lusa as “strategic positioning of Portugal in relation to European lithium policies and the dynamism of the socio-economic framework”, the “re-vegetation of the affected areas and the implementation of the Environmental and Landscape Recovery Project (PARP).

Air quality monitoring plans will also be implemented, as well as Wolf monitoring, and monitoring of surface and underground water resources, particularly in the reservoirs to be created with the construction of the reservoirs and in the Covas river”.

For the many who are fighting this plan, ‘monitoring’ is not enough. They want to ensure no harm is allowed to come to an area that has United Nations recognition as World Agricultural Heritage, and sustains farmers and several businesses in two boroughs (Boticas and Montalegre).

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