RESIDENTS OF Vale do Boi, a small village nestling in a valley west of Lagos, are up in arms about the proposed construction of an open sewage treatment plant in their village by water company Águas do Algarve. According to local residents, the firm’s intention is to build the plant inside the village, less than 15 metres from houses and 125 metres from the village centre, reports The Resident’s Caroline Cunha.
While residents appreciate that better sewage facilities are required, they are claiming that the proximity of the open sewage plant will emit unpleasant odours and attract mosquitoes and flies, posing a health risk. The people of the village are demanding that this plant be placed in a position that will not threaten the people of Vale do Boi.
Concerns began last year, when the Jones family left England to move into a brand new house they had built in Vale do Boi, not far from a stream. One day, soon after moving in, an Águas do Algarve van appeared and technicians from the water company got out and stood in the Jones’ garden looking through some plans.
To their horror, the Jones discovered that the water board had plans to construct a sewage treatment plant on their back garden! “We thought we were about to lose everything we had worked for and had made a big mistake by moving here,” Caroline Jones told The Resident.
Following several solicitors’ letters sent to Águas do Algarve and Vila do Bispo Câmara, it seemed the original plans for the plant were abandoned. But Caroline told The Resident that they had not heard anything official to that effect.
However, she does concede that the current sewage treatment system needs to be replaced. “It is small and old fashioned and sometimes packs up in the summer when the population increases, causing sewage to come up the plug hole into baths and showers.”
No definite location as yet
The Resident spoke to Antero Augusto da Silva Albuquerque, a technician with Coteprol, the company responsible for finding and negotiating the price for the land where the treatment plant will be located.
“The exact location for the plant is not yet defined. According to the original project, which is several years old, a location had been stipulated. However, it was then discovered that the proposed site was within someone’s garden,” Antero told us. “I, therefore, assume that the house had not been built when the original project was drawn up.
“We are currently looking for an alternative location and, although originally the idea was to place the new plant as close as possible to the existing one, the site may now be moved to the other side of the water line,” he said.
Residents, however, don’t agree that it should be placed across from the stream because it is only 125 metres to the centre of the village and still close to several homes. In addition, there are very steep banks that would keep odours and insects trapped in.
Caught in the middle
Antero told us that his company is caught in the middle, but guaranteed that the aim is to find a location that suits everyone involved. “We will try very hard to please everyone, but sometimes it isn’t possible,” he said.
Work was supposed to have begun on the new sewage treatment station this month, but this is now on hold. “Work will begin this year, only later,” guaranteed Antero, who also confided, “I know they are keen to get this done quickly.”
Trees to minimise impact
Wherever the plant is sited, the Coteprol technician explained that trees will be planted around it in order to minimise the visual impact. He also spoke of the sewage treatment unit being biological, using only natural plant herbicides to treat waste.
Vale do Boi is a typical Portuguese agricultural village, with around 100 inhabitants and many acres of land all around it. This is why Karen Carfrae, another resident, cannot understand the reason for placing “something so smelly and hazardous” near people’s homes. Karen is also suspicious that the little village is set to host the sewage of the entire area, including that of nearby luxury resorts. “I am also curious to find out whether this will break EU law,” she commented.
Another British expatriate resident in the village, Brian Pearson, can’t seem to get away from sewage problems, having been the victim of a poorly managed plant in Mirfield, West Yorkshire in the UK.
“Where I lived in Mirfield, there was a very large plant where waste wasn’t treated properly; plus it was close to homes. We were inundated with insects. Such was the problem enormous flies would cover the walls of houses, to the point that they would change colour. There was also a foul smell and people complained bitterly,” he said.
Apparently, it all came about because the British water board had decided to change the way the area’s waste was treated, but the new strategy did not work. According to Brian, “due to the many complaints, authorities were instructed to put huge infrared fly traps all around the plant. They did eliminate the insect problem, but proved so expensive that they had to go back to the original method.”
Understandably, Brian is concerned that a similar problem could occur in Vale do Boi, especially due to the hotter climate. “The answer is to move it away from the village; hopefully, they can do this without affecting someone else,” he said. “If they do site it across from the stream as they are planning, even the people from Monte Rui Vaz urbanisation, across the EN125, will be affected, as they are also just 100 metres away.”
Tensions are reportedly running so high in the area that, allegedly, every time an Águas do Algarve van arrives in the village, elderly ladies hurl abuse. In addition, the man who is about to sell his land to the water board has been the target of abuse. Allegedly, he recently had his chickens and geese killed, and his sheep have also disappeared.
Interestingly, Vale do Boi is not the only village in the Vila do Bispo area to experience problems as a result of plans to improve basic sanitation. The people of Hortas do Tabual have also been protesting at their local Junta de Freguesia over a proposed new plant in their area. According to sources, their complaints proved successful and, with backing of the Junta de Freguesia and local Câmara, it has been possible for the initial location to be changed.
“What we want is either another closed-in treatment plant or, if it has to be an open one, for it to be located further down the valley, away from houses,” said Caroline Jones.
The response from
Águas do Algarve
The Resident contacted Águas do Algarve to find out more about their plans for Vale do Boi. Public relations manager, Teresa Fernandes, confirmed that Águas do Algarve is indeed planning to de-activate the small, enclosed ETAR (septic tank). “Studies are currently being undertaken to relocate it and, at the moment, we do not have a definitive place,” she said. “However, we hope to agree on a location within two to three weeks, following meetings with several entities.”
When asked about residents’ concerns with regard to unpleasant odours and insects, Fernandes was quick to defend the plan. “Every effort will be made to avoid inconveniencing residents. We are trying to locate the plant away from the houses. People should not be worried about mosquitoes or smells because the sewage plant breaks down the waste biologically. Waste will not collect or stand still, it is a continual process that avoids smells. Furthermore, it will be surrounded by trees and bug eating plants will eradicate any flies and mosquitoes,” she assured.
However, such assurances don’t appear to be enough for Vale do Boi residents. Karen Carfrae and Caroline Jones are working to compile a petition. The number of signatures is mounting and the plan is to deliver copies to Águas do Algarve and Vila do Bispo Câmara in the coming days.