Ria Formosa islanders win last-minute reprieve: 90 days to find solution for homes at risk

In another major feel-good moment this Tuesday, Ria Formosa islanders heard that the compulsory seizure of homes scheduled for Thursday morning at 9am has been delayed, with new exemptions for fishermen and those who have shellfish nurseries.

In other words of the 81 houses under threat on Farol and Hangares nuclei of Culatra island, at least 19 are being spared and ‘this is just the beginning’.

The relentless SOS Ria Formosa campaign has said in its latest post that it will continue to battle for the remaining homes still under threat.

“Today 19 were saved but our struggle isn’t over”, affirmed the campaign’s Facebook page, “because there are still many more to save” and lots more to do.

The focus is on “equality” between all the communities on Culatra, and “for this we have to keep fighting.

“We will not stand by and see situations of injustice. In Portugal, there are not first-class and second-class citizens, we are Portuguese and that is how we went to those islands in the first place”.

Rhetoric aside, this has been a wonderful end to weeks of high tension in which all local political parties finally came out in favour of the islanders’ battle, and in which Algarve MPs are due to present “projects for resolution” in parliament on Thursday.

For Polis Litoral – seen previously as the bane of islanders’ existence – this will have been a difficult day.

In a statement, the Environment ministry explains that it has written to Polis saying that “houses that are used for fishermen (active and retired) and shellfish nurserymen should not be demolished as the new strategy for Nature Conservation privileges the development of traditional activities”.

The minister’s decision, say campaigners, shows that Polis had “committed innumerous errors” in singling out properties for demolition, and that its president Sebastião Teixeira had never accepted a) that homes he was planning to raze were the only roofs over people’s heads, or that b) the communities involved depended on fishing for their livelihoods.

Teixeira will now be forced to do something he has never done before: dialogue with islanders.

It is a development political parties, both national and local, have long been demanding and which environment minister Matos Fernandes agrees must now go ahead with respect to properties spared the wrecking ball, as, he says, they are still technically “at risk”.

Matos Fernandes has set a 90-day period in which “Polis and those involved should find a solution”.

Meantime, the much-feared ‘compulsory seizure’ of what now amounts to 62 properties (out of the original universe last year of 800) has been bumped forwards to November 8, as behind the scenes efforts to save most of them will be continuing apace.

Calling the news a “victory”, campaigners have congratulated Matos Fernandes on his approachability, saying up until this point their calls for dialogue had fallen on deaf ears.

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