Threat of lithium mining prompts protests in Argemela

An unlikely group of middle-aged protestors was out in force yesterday, sporting “Je Suis Argemela” t-shirts – the significance of which was lost on the bulk of the population – and railing against plans for a lithium mine in nearby rolling hills.

As one of the vociferous female members of the crowd told television reporters: “We like to wake up and see the beauty!” But lithium is one of Portugal’s potential passports to much-needed growth (click here), so chances of success for the people of small community in Covilhã look slim.

The chants of “Aregemela is ours and that’s the way it should be” also failed somehow as a rallying cry to outsiders – but the essence of the struggle is one that everyone can identify with:

“We’re very worried because if these plans go ahead, the whole hillside will be denuded of stones simply to serve the interests of people who are not from this area”, Maria do Carmo Mendes told the area’s newspaper, Jornal do Fundão.

Mendes stressed that the area earmarked for lithium exploration is equivalent to 400 football pitches. “It is absolutely unimaginable. The whole hillside will end up being mined”.

“All our lives we have had these trees”, added 70-year-old Maria Galvão. “Now they want to substitute them by this! It cannot be. What will happen to the rivers, the lakes, the ponds and our agriculture?”

Fears are that the “chemicals used” in the ‘washing process’ of mining lithium could “rapidly infiltrate water courses”, explains Jornal do Fundão.

But the crux of concerns are that people have simply not been given enough information.

Mining contracts were drawn up in 2011, but it was only this year that a concession for the mining of lithium was published in State newspaper Diário da República.

Parish council president Luís Morais says that locals “don’t know what is going to happen to our pine trees, to our waters, to our roads”, they don’t know how compensation is to be attributed” or even whether it is ‘possible’ under the circumstances of so much land being involved.

For now, all questions are left hanging in the air.

The firm PANNN – Consultores de Geociência, Lda, from Aljustrel is to be pressed by council chiefs for more information.

According to reports, the project involves an investment of €35 million and promises to create 120 jobs.

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Photo: Jornal do Fundão