Environmental Organisations including eight Portuguese NGOS, and supported by legal charity ClientEarth, have filed a court action with the Lisbon Administrative Court against the proposed Montijo Airport, situated across the Tagus Estuary in Montijo, some 20 miles from the centre of Lisbon.
The development is supported by ANA – Aeroportos de Portugal – which operates Lisbon’s existing, but capacity-constrained Lisbon Airport (Portela) as well as Oporto, Faro and Beja Civilian Terminal in mainland Portugal, Ponta Delgada, Horta, Santa Maria and Flores in the Azores and Madeira e Porto Santo in Madeira.
The legal action argues that the Portuguese authorities failed to properly consider the severe impacts of the future Montijo Airport on an internationally protected nature site before giving the project the green light.
The new airport is within the Tagus estuary, considered by the environmental organisations as “Portugal’s most important wetland”
Joaquim Teodósio from SPEA said: “An estuary of this size is an ecosystem of enormous complexity that cannot be replicated. Considering this project will have negative impacts across practically all sectors, from public health to nature conservation – a more ill-suited location could not have been chosen. The Tagus is the worst possible place to install an airport. It simply makes no sense.”
“The site has gained multiple international nature protection statuses because of the hundreds of thousands of birds there, including thousands of migratory wetland birds that congregate for the winter or on their journey between Northern Europe and Africa.”
“Protected migratory birds and habitats in the Tagus will be permanently disturbed if the airport is constructed. The safety of aircrafts, people and birds would also be threatened by the risk of “bird strikes”, while the health of people and nature would be affected by higher levels of noise and pollution emitted from increased air, road and river traffic.”
With this legal action, the groups are aiming to annul Montijo Airport’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which approves the development. In this case, lawyers consider that the Portuguese authorities have failed to carry out reliable assessments and have instead simply proposed to ‘relocate’ the birds that would be affected by restoring marginal areas of the protected area to compensate any negative impacts from the airport. Failure to fully assess the environmental impact of a project, and jumping to suggesting that birds can and will simply inhabit nearby salt flats instead, is a clear breach of EU and national laws.
According to The Portugal News, Portugal’s minister of infrastructure Pedro Nuno Santos said
“We welcome this decision because it puts an end to a five-decade blockade on the construction of the new Lisbon airport,” adding that there are “no environmentally neutral airports”.
The airbase covers a large area – around 1,000 hectares and so is approximately three times larger than Lisbon airport – allowing the current military air base to continue in operation while a civilian airport is built.
ClientEarth wildlife lawyer Soledad Gallego said: “The Portuguese government is bound by law to protect the birds and habitats that depend on this unique natural area for survival. Approving this airport would severely deteriorate this important wetland. The Portuguese authorities have failed to consider that this project would adversely affect the integrity of this irreplaceable nature reserve. Persevering despite the unnecessary risk it poses to nature is a blatant breach of EU and national nature laws and cannot go unchallenged. Montijo Airport could have far-reaching consequences felt well beyond Portuguese borders. Failure to consider this will cause irreversible damage to nature, people and the climate.”