In a decision that will send enraged environmental groups scurrying to their lawyers, the government and the airports authority, ANA, have decided to press ahead with the Montijo air base development without waiting for the completion of a key environmental impact study.
The agreement to start the project to create a second Lisbon airport will move forward without a study into the effects the increased air traffic will have on birdlife in the Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve (Reserva Natural do Estuário do Tejo) and the dangers posed to passengers.
The concern expressed by ANA, Aeroportos de Portugal, is that it is unable to meet the project deadlines unless this part of the process is skipped. The government had agreed and will sign the deal without completing all of the necessary processes.
The Minister of Planning and Infrastructure, Pedro Marquês, stated that all environmental measures defined in the environmental impact study for Montijo will be fully complied with, although it is impossible for him to be certain unless he knows already what is in the report.
The ceremony will take place at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 8, at the Air Force Base in Montijo with the presence of Prime Minister António Costa, Minister of Planning and Infrastructure, Pedro Marquês, VINCI’s chairman and CEO, Xavier Huillard, and the president of VINCI Airports, Nicolas Notebaert.
The environmental study being carried out is looking at the migratory birds that use the Montijo flight path area and is to report on the risk to the safe operation of aircraft.
ANA’s first environmental impact study was rejected in July 2018 by the Portuguese Environment Agency, describing its contents as ‘confused, general and full of deficiencies,’ with the Minister of the Environment remaining insistent that there must be a rigorous assessment of the impact of the new airport’s operation on the local bird life.
The Ministry of Planning and Infrastructure confirmed that the signing of the Montijo agreement, scheduled for next Tuesday, January 8, will be carried out without the completion of the promised environmental study.
The study, when it is published, still has to be approved by the Portuguese Environment Agency but without a defined date, again illustrating that these environmental studies are nothing more than a box-ticking exercise – whatever the Tagus reports concludes, the government will press ahead anyway.
The signing of the memorandum is needed before construction starts at Montijo to turn it into a complementary facility to Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado airport.
The conversion work will cost around €1 billion which will be paid in full by ANA although it remains unclear who will pay for increased rail and road transport capacity between Montijo and Lisbon, and who is paying the relocation costs of the Air Force unit which is moving out of Montijo.
Montijo airport is expected to be open by 2022, i.e. some time in 2021 and raises the Lisbon area’s capacity to 50 million passenger movements a year, just under five time the country’s population.
The leader of the Left Bloc, Catarina Martins, expressed “enormous perplexity” over the agreement to be signed next Tuesday as the results of the environmental impact study will not be known.