Fresh environmental doubts shed on new Lisbon airport site

 In Aviation, News

The Portuguese Government is facing a fresh avalanche of criticism over its chosen site for a second Lisbon international airport on the South side of the capital at Montijo.

According to RTP’s Panorama-style current affairs investigation programme Sexta Às Nove, the Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa announced the airport would go ahead at the site of a former Portuguese airforce base without an accepted environmental impact study.

In other words, the Government gave the green light for the new airport at Montijo but never told the country the real reasons why there had never been a full and approved environmental impact study published until last week.

The first environmental impact study commissioned by the Portuguese airports authority ANA has been metaphorically ripped to sheds by the evaluating commission set up to examine it and presided over by the Portuguese Environment Agency AIA.

And now turned down, the study is being completely redone. Among the failings discovered was the fact that the report didn’t have a conclusion and failed to evaluate structural questions like, for example, the impact of noise pollution on a swathe of urban development covering the municipalities of Seixal and Barreiro which would be affected by aircraft noise and covering some 35,000 inhabitants living in poorly sound-insulated homes.

It is because of these serious deficiencies that the evaluating commission has slammed the study which will have to be redone and represented to the Portuguese Environment Agency (AIA) before the Euro elections, therefore by the end of March.

Various specialists and bodies involved in several projects regarding the new airport have criticised what they call unacceptable pressure on the Government to fulfil its election promises and therefore to have done a rush job.

“This (Montijo) is the decision and now it has tio be put into practice” confirmed Prime Minister António Costa when the decision was formalised at a signing ceremony earlier this year.

Critics say that he should not have announced the decision to go ahead with the project without having the environmental impact study done, accepted and signed off by the appropriate authorities.

Now, at least one environmental NGO pressure group ‘Zero’ says it will take the Portuguese government to the European Court of Justice if it presses ahead with the new airport without an environmental impact study being signed off by the appropriate EU and Portuguese environmental bodies.

“The technical brief for the first environmental impact study, which is the most important part, was removed by ANA,” says Maria Rosário Partidário an engineering professor from Lisbon’s Higher Technical Institute who analysed the rushed study.

“I wouldn’t say it is among the best studies I’ve seen done” says the specialist who has analysed other similar studies internationally.

“It shouldn’t have more than 20 pages and this one has 35 and with various problems. Too many images, too much colour, the text is too small, and above all, it doesn’t have a conclusion,” she adds.

Eight entities have analysed the 1700 pages of the entire environmental impact study to find failings in terms of a systemisation of information, significant gaps that make it difficult to evaluate levels of noise and pollution, problems regarding cartography, a lack of location alternatives and an absence of methodology.

In fact, the AIA slammed the study as not adequate and ANA has now stopped the process, alleging the need to fill in the information gaps that have been identified before the impact study is resubmitted.

Maria Rosário Partidário goes on to say that because the current existing airport had reached capacity, there was an urgent and pressing need to find an alternative and the Government needed to “cook something up as quickly as possible”.

The Government insists that work on the new airport will not go ahead without the approval of the competent environmental agencies.

The entity that produced the impact study refused to comment to the TV programme on the grounds of client confidentiality.