The Ria Formosa island homes demolition battle has reignited, with cries of foul play from island resident groups as a further 22 properties have been scheduled for destruction. This is despite the minister’s promise last April that nothing more would be done until a review in three years time.
The previously protected homes in the villages of Farol and Hangares are back in the firing line for a new wave of demolitions authorised by Polis Litoral Ria Formosa - with the full knowledge of the ministry.
The 22 properties affected, some of them qualifying as first homes owned by fishermen, had been scheduled for demolition but had come under the protection of Loulé court, pending judgement.
The court came down on the side of the State and Polis Litoral Ria Formosa (Polis) has wasted no time in issuing eviction notices, prior to sending in the demolition teams.
The reason for demolition, given by the State, was that these properties are within 40 metres of the shore line, a legal point that is being used to justify the demolition of properties despite some qualifying as first homes and hence being exempt.
Home owners now have until the end of February to vacate their properties after which Polis will seize the buildings and have them knocked down.
With the passage of time since last April, when the islanders’ struggle overnight had gone from incendiary to calm, the promise by Polis of bulking up the shoreline with dredged sand has not happened, meaning further front line properties soon will come within the 40 metre line as erosion allows the sea to encroach.
When the current front line properties are gone, the second row become front line and, with erosion, soon will qualify for seizure and demolition. Some houses now scheduled for destruction are less than a metre into the 40 metre line.
Sociedade Polis Litoral Ria Formosa was run by Sebastião ‘Demolition Man’ Teixeira until he had to quit for deliberately upstaging the environment minister. It seems the new management at Polis is just as determined to rid the islands of people as the previous.
Polis, majority owned by taxpayers through the Environment Ministry, is the company charged with issuing demolition notices but its life always was limited by law when it was set up with a huge grant of EU funds.
Successive extensions to the company’s fixed-term should have ended earlier this month so, legally, it may no longer exist unless João Matos Fernandes again has extended its life. If he has done so, he did it with suspicious stealth. If he did not extend the company’s life, then the demolition notices have no legal validity.
The Farol Islanders Association of course is highly critical of the actions of Polis, with its president, Luciano Júlio, saying of this latest blow that there people who are still waiting for judicial decisions about the demolition of their homes.
"The Association considers these demolitions to be senseless and untimely," said Luciano Júlio, wondering why "the Environment Minister continues to use this 40 metre exclusion rule only for the villages of Hangars and Farol," as other areas within the Ria Formosa natural park have not been affetced by such legal fine print.
Júlio also criticized the government as, having approved a decree law in October 2016, which provided for the creation of "an advisory commission for a new Coastal Zone Plan between Vila Real de Santo António and Vilamoura,” it has not heard representation from any island association.
This key plan was due to be published "within 15 months" and stipulated that island associations participated in meetings and helped shape policy. To this day the plan has "remained in the minister's drawer."
"What I appeal for is the intervention of the prime minister to once again halt these demolitions, because only he can do it," said the president of the Farol Islanders Association.