SPEA, ANP / WWF Portugal, A Rocha Portugal, FAPAS, GEOTA, LPN, ZERO and Almargem, with the support of the international NGO of environmental law ClientEarth, presented an administrative action in the Administrative Court of Lisbon for the annulment of the Impact Statement Favourable environmental policy issued by the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA).
The organisations argue that the Portuguese authorities have not adequately considered the impacts that the proposed Montijo Airport would have on the Tagus Estuary, a nationally and internationally protected natural area, and on the surrounding populations. They also point out the fact that a joint impact assessment was not carried out in the entire Lisbon region, related to the airport extension of Humberto Delgado Airport in conjunction with the complementary airport of Montijo, first of all due to the lack of Strategic Environmental Assessment. They also consider that the project ends up calling into question the region’s own sustainable socio-economic development.
According to the associations, birds and protected habitats in the Tagus will suffer permanent impacts if the airport is built. The safety of aircraft, people and birds will also be threatened, due to the risk of collisions between birds and airplanes, while the health of people and natural spaces would be affected by the increase in pollution resulting from the increase in air, road and river traffic. It is also estimated that more than 10,000 people will be significantly affected by high noise levels.
The associations state that the Portuguese authorities have not carried out a credible environmental impact assessment, and instead have simply proposed “trying to move” the birds that would be affected and compensate for the negative effects of the airport by recovering marginal areas of the Special Protection Zone.
It is alleged that the compensation and mitigation measures proposed for impacts on avifauna and the protected area are, in fact, to cover up the systematic failures in the conservation and management of this area, a responsibility that the country has assumed for the national and international importance of the estuary.
“It is not permissible to proceed with a project of this scale and importance without properly comparing alternatives through a Strategic Environmental Assessment, without properly assessing the impacts it will cause, and without a deep debate about what we want in terms of the development and organisation of the entire region,” says Joaquim Teodósio, coordinator of the SPEA’s Land Conservation Department.
The project has been highly criticised at national and international level. In Portugal, the public consultation of the project had close to 1,200 individual and collective participations, of which only 10 were clearly favourable. At the international level, nearly 40,000 people signed a petition against the venture, launched by BirdLife Holland, concerned that the airport constitutes a serious threat to the Dutch national bird: the milherango. This species is protected by law in Europe, and its Dutch population, which has been the target of huge conservation efforts in that country, passes through the Tagus estuary during the annual migration.
“Montijo Airport could have consequences far beyond Portuguese borders. Failure to consider these consequences will cause irreversible damage to nature, people and the climate far beyond the Tagus estuary,” says Soledad Gallego, lawyer for ClientEarth. “The Portuguese authorities have not considered that this project would negatively affect the integrity of this irreplaceable wetland: a clear violation of EU and national nature protection laws, which cannot go unpunished.”
With this court action, environmental protection organisations hope to definitively correct a mistake by the Portuguese government, which from now on would have “enormous impacts on global biodiversity, on the quality of life of the population living in the region and on the image of the country”.