António Pina, the mayor of Olhão and champion of the Ria Formosa islanders’ struggle for fair play and recognition, was in court on Monday, defending his petition that island property demolitions should be halted due to the presence of a rare island chameleon.
Pina took the opportunity of further trashing the reputation of Sebastião Teixeira, the former president of Polis Litoral Ria Formosa, by stating that all Teixeira has been interested in was demolishing island homes.
This is borne out by the fact that Teixeira, long gone from Polis, avoided consultation with islanders and organised the demolition process like a military operation with the inhabitants seen as the enemy.
Pina’s now-legendary ‘chameleon defence’ propelled him to the position of ‘the islanders’ hero’ as it served to frustrate the demolition programme last year just as the situation was reaching boiling point.
Pina now has a seat on the board of Polis, one of the concessions made by the then-popular Minister for the Environment who gave councils local to the Ria Formosa natural park more say in the running of the area by asking them to take up board positions.
Pina took the opportunity in Loulé to state to the assembled press that the Ria Formosa area should come under local control, not national, and should be recognised as a UNESCO site, thus shielding the islands from developers and from the continuation of the demolition programme despite assurance from the Minister of the Environment that properties will be dealt with on a ‘case by case’ basis.
In legal terms, the ‘chameleon defence’ lapsed some time ago, but the case was being heard as a matter of process.
The towering head of the Association of Property Owners of Hangares, José Lezinho, explained that in the areas where demolitions had taken place, no one since has spotted the rare and shy chameleon, which was meant to have been a protected species.
An environmental engineer, responsible for the safety and environmental coordination of the demolition programme on the Ria Formosa islands, testified that no one had even mentioned that a protected species was to be taken into account.
It is clear that Polis had no desire to cater for the needs of this animal that lives only on these islands. The Polis president, single-mindedly had determined to push ahead with the demolition programme, come what may.
What did come was Teixeira’s sacking, as the Environment Minister, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, finally had enough. Fernandes stated to parliament that demolitions were on hold and on the next day found that Teixeira had sent out further demolition notices.
In Loulé, Pina later said to reporters that he does not trust Polis, even though he now is a board member, and wants the islands to be unshackled from national legislation that has never taken into account the specific characteristics of the Ria Formosa islands.
Time is slipping past as the next slew of demolitions are due to start on February 22nd , affecting a further 60 island homes, many of which are said to be ‘too close to the water.’
Islanders say these properties at Hangares and Farol would be far from the water’s edge had the State not sanctioned the extraction of sand on an industrial scale which has in effect, removed their beach.
The islanders point out that as soon as waterfront properties are bulldozed, subsequent erosion will mean that currently safe properties will be in the front line and they too will need to be demolished - according to the government’s bizarre set of environmental rules which seem to change as often as the wind.
The islanders are exhausted, but fight on for their rights and their properties, realising now that the government has been deceitful all along and fully intends to demolish their properties using any piece of legislation that seems to suit.
February 22nd will see yet another show-down between islanders and the demolition crews - the Minister for the Environment would be advised to avoid the area as his lies have been exposed.