The government has suffered a new body blow in its determination to press ahead – against the advice and opinions of engineers, scientists, conservationists and civic groups – for a second airport south of Lisbon at Montijo.
The bid to garner support from minority parties to actually change the law in order to ‘stay with the programme’ has bitten the dust.
Left wing parties that more usually support PS power-makers have categorically refused to be reeled in – saying there are no good reasons for choosing Montijo other than to satisfy ‘big business’, in this case French company VINCI which purchased Portugal’s airports, says Left Bloc coordinator Catarina Martins, “at a bargain basement price and now wants to make as much money as possible”.
Attempts to appeal to the largest party in opposition, the centre-right PSD, have been equally stymied – with the party’s vice-chairman putting the boot in yesterday, accusing the government of “incompetence and irresponsibility”.
The truth is that this latest obstacle in starting construction on a 1.3 billion euro project designed to take the pressure off Lisbon’s creaking inner city airport are two Communist-led councils (Moita and Seixal) which, by law, have the power to ‘veto’ the plan even if it is supported by the government and given the green-light by licensing authorities.
Infrastructures minister Pedro Nuno Santos told parliament last week that the situation was ‘absolutely incomprehensible’ and that “obviously” the law impeding the government’s wishes (and, in his mind, the country’s opportunity for development) would have to be changed.
This was always an over-simplistic view: bearing in mind the weight of informed opinion against the project.
Climate research has already shown the site will be liable to flooding; civil engineers have outlined some of the major structural drawbacks (including a runway that is too short to safely accommodate larger planes), conservationists have highlighted the danger of bird-strike, the damage the airport would cause a thriving birding wetland and the devastation it would wreak on a fragile ecosystem, while studies into the effects on public health have acknowledged the very damaging toll a busy airport would bring local communities (click here).
Yet PS Socialists, up till now, have insisted there is no Plan B.
Again, this has been over-simplistic. There are plenty of Plan B’s – it’s just a matter of which would be best.
Pedro Nuno Santos admitted in January that it was not so much a question of ‘no other options’, but ‘no more time or money’ to explore them (click here).
Now, all the bluster has to be put in a box and somehow the government will have to move forwards.
Expresso yesterday carried an opinion piece by none other than former prime minister José Sócrates (currently facing prosecution for corruption on an allegedly enormous scale), recommending the option of Alcochete (a former military shooting ground).
Alcochete has been the choice of numerous ‘experts’, as has the military base of Alverca (click here).
Airline companies have long bewailed the delay in starting construction at Montijo – but with the global panic over coronavirus now impacting the sector, those ‘wails’ may abate somewhat as a next step is decided.
Controversy over the choice of Montijo airbase for a second Lisbon passenger terminal has moved to a new level. ANA airports authority – desperate to get the environmental ‘okay’ to get started – has come up with a plan to save birds from colliding with planes by buying or renting alternative nesting grounds “far from flightpaths”.
The proposal to provide 260 species of migratory birds a choice of eight nearby saltmarshes has been described as “perfectly normal” by environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes – the man pilloried for declaring that asbestos was “not a dangerous material”, and who continues to insist that lithium mining is “essential for the country to meet decarbonisation targets”.
But it has been met with amazement by members of the public who have left comments online to the effect of “once the alternative saltmarshes are purchased or rented, the government will send emails to all the birds registered with SEF (the border control agency) and tell them they have to move house … pathetic!”
Experts too have been left shaking their heads.
Said Domingos Leitão, executive director of SPEA (the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds), with habitual diplomacy, “this looks like being a false compensatory measure” even from a legal perspective.
Leitão explained that the various saltmarshes ‘identified’ to take fleeing avians are already protected. In other words, they can’t be used as compensatory measures, even if a solution was found on how to inform birds that they need to ‘vamoose’ as a collision with passenger jets arriving at the rate of 38 per hour might just ruffle feathers (of all concerned).
SPEA’s viewpoint is that “something new is needed to compensate for a damage” – but what it could be is somehow still left hanging.
For critics who have said all along that Montijo is the worst possible place for a new terminal to take the pressure of Lisbon’s heaving Humberto Delgado complex, this is just another example of institutional lunacy.
Civil engineers have already trashed the plan on the basis that it is a short-term sticking plaster carrying enormous environmental costs for local communities.
As for the birds, ANA airports authority has admitted that roughly 250 hectares that today represent an official sanctuary will be “significantly affected”.
Meantime, the second environmental impact study (the first having been rejected on the basis that it was “confused, generic and full of deficiencies”) is still under public discussion.
That in itself is ‘curious’ – bearing in mind it should have been ready in March.
All in all, the Montijo controversy looks set to stagger on until the elections are safely out of the way, at which point someone in power might agree that the military airbase constructed in the 50s and since surrounded by residential development is not the best place for a 21st century passenger terminal playing its part in bringing 50 million tourists to Portugal every year.
Online commentary certainly seems to hope so.
Said one reader, reacting to the saltmarsh buy-up plan: “This airport is an accident waiting to happen. The question is not if, but when there is a serious collision with birds …”
Study highlights health risks posed by jet planes
Released (almost quietly) during this controversy has been a report that concludes that people who “work, live or spend any form of prolonged period of time” near Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado airport “are exposed to high concentrations of ultrafine particles of such magnitude that constitutes a considerable risk to their health”.
Problems that could be precipitated by particles “so fine that they are 700 times less dense than a strand of hair” range from “neurological disorders to fetal development and cognitive problems in children”.
Explains lead investigator Margarida Lopes, who developed the study within the Sciences Technology and Environmental Engineering Faculty of the New University of Lisbon, the findings are ‘worrying’ – particularly as the short-term future suggests jet planes will now be arriving at two high-density residential destinations within close proximity to each other – Montijo being a relative stone’s throw ‘as the crow flies’ (excuse the pun) from Lisbon.
These ‘nanoparticles’ don’t stay put either. They float about within a radius of at least one km, and they’re found on airplane descent paths in areas like Amoreiras.
Lopes stressed that “until a few years ago, no one even suspected that particles so minuscule could have such a large impact on health”. Their measurement – and recognition of their prejudicial effects on public health – is “recent” and there is a “growing preoccupation, due to their direct absorption by the body, through the respiratory system”.
Nanoscience is very new, concludes TSF radio, and while it’s now clear that these particles affect people’s health, there is still no law setting limits on levels of exposure.
The ominous feeling behind Lopes’ study is that so little about it has been discussed in the media.
TSF carried an oblique comment from environmental NGO Quercus about the “need to transition to less polluting fuels”, but the bottom-line is that until this happens, and if Montijo does become a new passenger hub, hundreds of thousands of people will be at risk.
Portugal could beat records for tourism in 2019 despite airport deficiencies
Despite the perceived “brake on tourist growth” posed by the deficiencies of Lisbon Airport, President of Tourism Luís Araújo believes 2019 could be another record-breaking year.
Talking to Jornal Económico, Araújo said tourist numbers were up 6% in June (with revenue up 7%) and figures were likely to maintain this level, if not exceed it, for July and August.
Last year’s ‘record’ was 22.8 million holidaymakers, with 2019’s headed towards 24 million, he said.
Particularly excited by the Portuguese market are the Chinese.
Visitor numbers grew in the first half of the year by 16%, representing around 200,000 holidaymakers and 300,000 ‘sleepovers’.
Other Asian markets also in ascension include Malaysia, Hong Kong and even Vietnam.