Supreme Court set to rule over controversial Sado river dredging

The Supreme Administrative Tribunal (STA) has stepped into the heroic environmental battle over the massive dredging plan for the Sado river estuary.

Over a thousand people took to the streets of Setúbal last Saturday to protest against the plan which they insist will have “irreversible consequences” for the biodiversity of the waterway famous for its community of bottle-nosed dolphins.

The dolphins feed on the estuary’s rich variety of fish and shellfish.

Once the millions of cubic metres of sand earmarked for clearing has been shifted, fears are that the dolphins’ feeding grounds will simply disappear.

This is a fight that has had the scantest of national media coverage but which has seen endless court bids to stymie dredging plans.

In June – almost a year after rejecting a bid for an embargo – the administrative and fiscal tribunal of Almada partially upheld yet another appeal from environmentalists in the Clube de Arrábida – and now the STA has announced it will be reviewing this decision “because of the great economic relevance” of the project.

This is a project, backed by Setúbal Ports Authority (APSS) and the Ministry of the Sea. It has been justified over the need to open up the Sado to “larger ships”.

The 25 million euro tender has been awarded to construction firm Mota-Engil – but even APA (the Portuguese environment agency) that has sanctioned the plan admits it will have “irreversible effects” for the biodiversity of the area – ironically a landmark that is also classified as a natural reserve.

On a trip to Portugal last year, veteran ocean campaigner Peter Neill of World Ocean Observatory learnt of this fight and recorded a video clip, referring to a “misplaced set of values” and the need to find 21st century solutions “to allow us to sustain society”, not destroy natural landscapes and parks (click here).

But still pressure to dredge the Sado ploughs on – and now campaigners have reached the point where they believe work could get the green-light “at any minute”.

Will dredging hinge on the decision of a court that has already hinted that it sees “great economic relevance” in the project? Pedro Vieira of Clube de Arrábida suggests not.

“Independent of the final decision of the STA, the Clube de Arrábida will continue, and will always continue to believe that right is on its side”, he told Público. “The dredging work that APSS seeks to carry out is the greatest environmental attack ever undertaken on the Sado river”.

Clube de Arrábida “knows it is not alone”. “Many other environmental associations” support this fight, he added, along with the thousand-plus citizens who joined in last Saturday’s protest.

[email protected]