Urgent talks in São Bento as ‘rogue’ municipalities threaten future of Montijo airport

Urgent talks in São Bento as ‘rogue’ municipalities threaten future of Montijo airport

As the Resident’s printed version went to press on Wednesday, prime minister António Costa was due to meet with representatives of  ‘rogue municipalities’ threatening the future of the plan for a state-of-the-art passenger terminal at Montijo airbase.

The revelation that a simple council veto could scupper the plan – pushed unashamedly by the government – has seen PS power-makers say they may have no option but to change the law.

However it’s not that simple. The PS is a minority government – and so far it hasn’t found support for changing a law that it doesn’t like (largely because so many factions oppose the plan to site Lisbon’s secondary passenger terminal in Montijo in the first place).

Thus Costa’s acceptance finally that dialogue with impacted councils may be the only option – though the mayors of CDU communist-led Moita and Seixal municipalities have reiterated that ‘nothing will change their minds’.

As readers may be aware, there are so many arguments against siting a €1.3 billion euro terminal next to an important birding wetland in the densely residential borough of Montijo that even conservationists in Holland have joined the outcry (click here).

Infrastructures minister Pedro Nuno Santos contends that it is ‘absolutely incomprehensible’ that a single council can impede what he describes as ‘the country’s opportunity for development’. But this has to be balanced against climate research data (that shows the site will be liable to flooding as sea levels rise); criticism by civil engineers (citing fundamental structural failings) and studies that conclude that a busy airport would have “very negative effects” on local public health.

“Good sense is to opt for better solutions”, says Moita’s mayor Rui Garcia – stressing it is not a question of his council being ‘intransigent’ for the sake of it, but appreciating “the negative economic and scenic effects” of the plan – which in his opinion would be “irredeemable”.

Garcia’s mindset is very much in line with that of left-wing parties across the board – “the government decided (on Montijo) before thinking. It signed contracts with Vinci (the French group that owns ANA airports authority) without proper consideration”.

Added to that, Garcia believes – along with many others – that the military base of Alcochete “would be a far better solution”.

“The argument that it would be more expensive (than Montijo) is false”, he told journalists.

Thus Wednesday’s meeting was billed as being ‘pivotal’: a moment where the government was to present “possible compensatory packages” to Moita and Seixal in the hope that both would relent and ‘come on board’.

If unsuccessful, belief is that the executive may still try and push through the necessary ‘law change’ so that work can finally start on an airport it claims the country has been crying out for for decades.