Saturday, October 22, 2005

SALGADOS (October 2005 Update)

The following update arrived via email to all interested parties in mid October. It is lengthy, but well worth reading. The retraction of the submission of Lagoa dos Salgados as a proposed RAMSAR site is unfortunate, but probably not critical. The final part of this document (highlighted in red text) is significant. Apart from the developers having reduced the scale of their proposal by almost 50% (in terms of volume of new accomodation), they have shown a willingness to collaborate with SPEA and the RSPB in maintaining the viability of the lagoon as a natural resource. The overall situation is much more complex than any of us thought just over one year ago and both the RSPB and SPEA must be congratulated for clarifying this, disseminating the information and doing a splendid job in bringing together, and negotiating with, all interested parties; given the obscure way in which the "Portuguese machinery" works, this is no small triumph! There is some way to go yet before we have any sign of victory, but I think that we have some cause for optimism.

Lagoa dos Salgados – Situation Update (October 2005)

This briefing follows the one from last April, and aims to summarise the latest developments with the efforts being undertaken by Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA – BirdLife in Portugal) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB – BirdLife in the UK) to secure the long-term conservation of the Lagoa dos Salgados, an unprotected Important Bird Area (IBA) in the Algarve Coast.

This briefing was due to be sent during the summer, but the many recent developments (see below) have turned the situation rather volatile, with information coming in and follow-up meetings set up throughout the summer, so we have waited until the situation became clearer before sending you all the present up-date

Summary of the situation in April 2005 (see previous briefings for further detail)

+ We were facing a big tourism development project (10,000 beds, 18-hole golf course) planned for the area immediately to the west and north of the lagoon, that would occupy significant parts of the western and northern margins of the wetland. This project did not have planning permission due to a negative evaluation by the local land planning agency (CCDR), but there was intensive pressure to deconstruct and reverse this binding opinion.
+ We were facing the impending construction of a new sewage treatment plant that will substitute the current one, and therefore remove the main current source of water feeding the wetland. The original plans for the new sewage treatment plant did not include any outflow to the wetland.
+ The site was not protected, and the Portuguese government was unwilling to declare it as an Special Protected Area (SPA) under the Birds Directive.

Actions by SPEA and the RSPB between April and September 2005

New sewage treatment plant – definition of the remit of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and development of the EIA proper

The new sewage treatment plan had, by law, to be subjected to an EIA. A critical step in the EIA process was to define and agree on the terms of reference (TOR) of the EIA proper. This is done by an EIA evaluation commission that is established for each project under EIA obligations. The EIA commission has representatives from the land planning and local and central statutory agencies, including the Portuguese government nature conservation agency (ICN), CCDR, etc.

It was clear that the first step would be to make sure that the EIA remit would cover the needs of the lagoon. There was the clear danger that the TOR for this EIA would exclude anything to do with the wetland, as the new sewage treatment plant is several kilometres away from the wetland. It was therefore crucial to lobby and inform all the stakeholders in the EIA commission to introduce the needs of the lagoon in the specific TOR of this EIA. SPEA and the RSPB organised meetings with both ICN and CCDR last April, to convey this point. We are happy to report that we were successful here. This means that the EIA had to consider the needs of the lagoon.

The EIA process then started in earnest, and was contracted out to a environmental impact assessment consultancy (IPA, Inovação de Projectos em Ambiente, lda). Our next steps here were to provide this company with our data and priorities for the lagoon: In early May SPEA and the RSPB met with the directors from this company and exchanged views and data, including Joao Ministro’s general evaluation of the biodiversity importance of the lagoon (see below).

IPA’s team were suggesting that the wetland should be maintained at the 2 metres asl (above sea level), a value far below the average current dimensions of the wetland. We have conveyed to them the need to change that in the final EIA report, and also discussed with them the relevance to propose the establishment of a system and process that would allow for an integrated management of the wetland water requirements.

We can also report that the submarine emissary (600 m long at sea) that will be built as part of the new sewage treatment plant – and that will serve an area with 300,000 summer residents - will cross the southern part of the lagoon from northeast to southwest. The emissary will cross the existing golf-course on the eats side of the lagoon (Golfe dos Salgados).

We conveys to the IPA’s team our concerns and suggestions regarding the issue of minimizing disturbance to the birds and the habitats from the work to install the emissary, namely seasonal restrictions to the construction work, etc.

More, the new sewage treatment plant will produce a substantial amount of water with tertiary treatment that will be provided, at a cost, to the existing and future golf-courses in the area. It is not yet clear where all the infrastructure to transport this water from the plant to the golf courses will be laid. Again, the location of these may have an impact on the wetland, and we conveyed our concerns to the IPA team.

The EIA study has been finished, and has been sent to the customer, but hasn’t been released to the public yet, and we haven’t seen the final draft – usually it takes about 6-9 months in between delivery to the customer and public disclosure for comment. SPEA is waiting for the compulsory public scrutiny window in order to evaluate and comment on this study.

Studies and suggestions on the hydrology and management options for the lagoon, as well as general characterization of the biodiversity importance of the lagoon

It is clear that during 2005-2006 several important decisions regarding the long-term future of the Salgados wetland will be taken (EIA, new sewage treatment plan, planning permission for the tourism development, etc). In the beginning of this year SPEA and the RSPB have thus decided to develop some quick assessment of the biodiversity importance of the lagoon, and about several aspects related to the water management of the site, to inform all these processes and decisions. Two studies were developed:

b.1 – a general study on the biodiversity importance of the lagoon, including some mapping of areas important for birds. This was the responsibility of Joao Ministro, the local IBA caretaker, with abundant local knowledge and many years of experience in monitoring the lagoon

b.2 – some practical considerations about the water management of the lagoon, including some recommendations for future water level management (as one of the main issues affecting the biodiversity of the lagoon had to do with water quality and the regular emptying-out of the lagoon, see previous briefings). This was the responsibility of Matt Self, an RSPB senior ecologist.

Matt Self visited the site in the end of March, and these reports were produced over the following 3 months. Drafts of the reports were in the meantime sent to the company developing the EIA. These reports have also been shared with the main stakeholders (the developers, CCDR, etc).

Both these reports are available to all interested individuals. They are big files (total 4MB), so please contact me if you want to receive them in your e-mail inbox.

Advocacy strategy to protect the site

As mentioned, SPEA and the RSPB feel that the site should be protected as an Special Protected Area (SPA) under the Birds Directive. However, the Portuguese government had clearly told us that they were not willing to declare new SPAs in the near future, for a number of reasons:
SPAs are still seen a negative hindrance to development by all local and regional bodies, so the central government suffers a political cost in declaring new SPAs
Locals elections (just held last weekend – 9th October) meant mayors were not available to discuss and take forward any “controversial” issue, worried about their re-election prospocts
The Portuguese government is under pressure from the EU Commission to progress on a infringement case following a formal complaint regarding poor implementation of the Birds Directive, in particular regarding the protection of steppe habitats, so they will not dedicate time and effort to any initiative related to SPAs before solving that complaint.

After discussing the issue internally and with several policy and advocacy experts, and given the position of the Portuguese government, SPEA and the RSPB have then developed an alternative advocacy strategy to secure some form of legal protection for this site. The alternative solution devised was to aim for Ramsar designation (under the Ramsar convention) as a first step that would eventually lead to further designation later on. Main reason for this solution:

The site fulfils Ramsar criteria
Ramsar is less politically charged than SPAs
In November there will be a Conference of the Parties of the Ramsar Convention (in Uganda), and the Portuguese Government had announced it would like to declare a few new Ramsar sites for that meeting, so there would be a window of chance here.

Please note that the final aim would always be to declare the site as an SPA, but this would be an interim solution offering us some political leverage and funding opportunities.

SPEA and the RSPB have then developed an advocacy campaign to lobby for this. In April SPEA and the RSPB have formally suggested to the Portuguese Ministry of Environment, in a formal meeting, these intentions. In several follow-up meetings with key staff from the ministry in April and May, the issue was always analysed. SPEA and the RSPB has also done technical preparatory work needed for the designation of the site, including filling in the Ramsar form for the site (available upon request). All this resulted in the inclusion of Salgados in the internal ministry documents being prepared for the designation of new Ramsar sites. SPEA had also started to contact with the other stakeholders regarding their views on this designation, and the response was positive (including from the developers).

In early September, SPEA and the RSPB met again formally with the Portuguese ministry of environment to secure a final decision on the matter – please see enclosed briefing produced for that meeting (in Portuguese). It was then that we were told of new and unexpected developments that changed completely the picture.

Unknown to us, in September 2004 a British citizen sent a petition to the European Parliament (EP) about Salgados. This petition was accepted by the EP and triggered some correspondence between the EP, the EU Commission and the Portuguese Government. Last March the EU Commission wrote to the Portuguese government asking why the area was not classified as an SPA, as was identified as an IBA by SPEA (please see enclosed petition and correspondence).

Faced with a contentious case with the Commission about steppe SPAs, and afraid that Brussels would start infringement procedures again if indeed the Portuguese authorities recognised now that Salgados was important, the Portuguese government then decided to freeze any form of protection of the site. In that meeting in September SPEA and the RSPB were then told that Salgados would be taken out of the candidate new Ramsar sites list that the Portuguese government will announce November.

So the situation now is that we have an all-or-nothing situation regarding the protection of the site. Either we can convince the Portuguese government and the local authorities to protect it as an SPA, or nothing at all. Obviously, that is what SPEA and the RSPB are now going to try. The local mayors (the wetlands borders both Silves and Albufeira councils) were both re-elected on Sunday, so SPEA and the RSPB will now address this issue with them, taking in consideration the new developments with the tourism development reported below.

The petition to the EP also illustrates how a well-meaning action by a concerned citizen has spoiled the legal protection of the site as a Ramsar site, and the advocacy strategy being developed by SPEA and the RSPB.

Meetings with developers (Irmaos Cavaco)

In the meantime, very positive developments have occurred in this area. In August SPEA and the RSPB have been sent a new plan for the tourism development, which considerably reduces the area it occupies. Faced with the negative evaluation by CCDR, and also with the pressure and lobbying that both SPEA and the RSPB have been doing over the last year, the developers have halved the number of beds (from 10,000 to 5,500) and have consequently “pulled” their golf course a few metres higher, so that it now is above the 4,5 metre asl line in the west of the lagoon, thus complying with the CCDRs technical opinion. In the north of the wetland the golf academy goes beyond the 4,5 m asl contour, but they the developers are not intending to do any alteration of the soil profile there, just plant a golfing green for a golf academy. Further, in the new plan the developers leave an area of original habitat (abandoned farm fields and maquis) of around 15ha in the centre of their property, in between the two streams.

SPEA and the RSPB studied carefully the new plan for the area, and eventually met the developers in mid September to discuss it further. The Cavaco brothers have then offered SPEA and the RSPB the possibility of active collaboration in the landscaping of the area around their development, to enhance biodiversity. They have also offered SPEA and the RSPB the old farmhouse located to the north of the wetland to establish an eventual interpretation and visitor centre, and were open to negotiate technical details about the work to be done. In the meantime, the Cavaco brothers have resubmitted their new plan to the CCDR, which is now evaluating it. SPEA and the RSPB are in close contact with CCDR: their first, informal reaction was positive, since the new plan complies with the main reason for the initial negative opinion (overlap between the golf-course and the historical flood limit)

SPEA then sought endorsement from their board about this new development – the possibility of engaging with the developers in an active collaboration. The response was positive.

Next steps:

SPEA and the RSPB will meet with CCDR in the end of October to follow this up, and get information about any planning permission, as well as the designation of the site as an SPA, etc.
SPEA and the RSPB will submit to the developers a proposal regarding further actions that can happen to enhance the habitat and biodiversity value of the site, taking in consideration the new development plan.
SPEA and the RSPB will meet with Aguas do Algarve in the end of October to evaluate latest developments with the EIA and the construction of the new sewage treatment plant. Please note that even if the authorities require a compulsory outflow from the new sewage treatment plan to the lagoon, the important issue of who will pay for this water (that needs to have tertiary treatment according to EU legislation) is still outstanding.
SPEA and the RSPB will meet with the local councils in the end of October to discuss their approach towards declaration the site as an SPA

The next briefing is planned for the beginning of 2006, give or take one or two months to accommodate new developments.

If any of these points require clarification, please contact us directly.

Yours sincerely,

José Pedro Tavares
Country Programmes Officer for Portugal, Turkey and Greece
International Division
The Lodge
Bedfordshire SG19 2DL, UK

Luis Costa
Rua da Vitória, 53 -3º Esq
1100-618 Lisboa, Portugal

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