Montijo: An option for the future or an announced crime?

Paulo Cardoso, Portugal – 19 years old

“There is no plan B for the Montijo airport”, said António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal, to TSF radio when one more blockade was imposed to the construction of the new Portuguese aerial platform, this time coming from the city council. In the last few months, the progress in the works of the construction of the new airport has been none, and the oppositions, in a huge number.

“We cannot be changing plans all the time”, responds the government official, to the diverse environmental associations and science specialists recognizing that the infrastructure has serious problems in the construction project. The community who are against this work defends that the environmental compensation measures will not prevent the impacts on the fauna and flora.

Jonathan Franzen, writer and birdwatcher who recently visited the estuary where the airport would be situated, speaking to Jornal Expresso, a Portuguese newspaper, characterizes the planned construction as “a crime against the environment”. After exploring this protected area for around seven hours, he considered it as a “remarkable and incredible” place.
Jonathan Frozen’s concern is the same felt by several environmental organizations that have already protested and appealed to the Portuguese courts and the European Commission action over it. Almargem, WWF, A Rocha, GEOTA, LPN, FAPAS, SPEA and ZERO declared, to Agência Lusa, that the building of the new airport “must be assessed in the context of a strategic environmental assessment”. In an official statement, the environmentalists stress that “the construction of this airport (…) must be the most complete possible, based on the current knowledge of all environmental components (climate, ecological, social, economic, etc.)”.

Aerial view of Montijo Air Base.

300 thousand birds at risk?

According to the environmental impact study done by the Portuguese Environment Agency, the project does not consider neither the impacts in nature, nor the impacts on public health of the populations. The protection of bird routes and their habitats “is called to the question, given the fact that the risk that the airport construction constitutes to the species was not properly studied”. This is the case, based on data from the communiqué, of the “60 thousand black-tailed godwit birds or the 50 thousand glossy ibis that were observed this winter (…) and that are ignored in the study”.

In this large mosaic of natural landscapes, the huge variety of species could be affected by the predicted “24 civilian flights per hour with a landing or take-off every three minutes”, warns José Alves. The researcher at the University of Aveiro considers that the compensation measures proposed by the Nature Conservation Institute of Portugal “are not functional” and put the protected area in danger.

Does everyone think about the environmental impact?

According to ANA Airports, this is an infrastructure that will cost 1.3 billion euros with a projected environmental compensation of 43 million euros. The transport of over 50 million passengers to the country will be guaranteed with approximately 3000 extra flights that the Airport in Lisbon can receive. These are the data that show how not everyone thinks about the environmental impact.

“Montijo airport will be very interesting, since it will develop a sector in which we are lacking, the hotel and tourism sector”, defends Francisco Carriço, president of the Association of Commerce, Industry, Services and Tourism of the District of Setúbal. In an interview with Agência Lusa, in 2018, he also remembered that it will be necessary to increase the number of hotels in the Setúbal Peninsula, to support tourist demand. In this context, the Agência Lusa has been collecting the opinion of traders about a possible new airport. Sandra Camilo, a fishmonger in Alcochete, a city in neighborhood, defended that the infrastructure will develop the city and the country, creating “more work opportunities”. “I will sell more fish, there will be development, more movement of people”, she said.

If, on one hand, there is consensus that Montijo Airport can bring economic growth to the various municipalities of the Lisbon region, on the other hand, there are those who argue that the environmental impacts attached to it, such as increased noise pollution, will be harmful to the population. What is known is that the Airport is already assumed to be a reality in the near future, but its construction is far from being seen.

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