The president of Olhão council said today that he will propose an urgent review of the Coastal Zone Management Plan, covering the area between Vilamoura and Vila Real de Santo António, which is being used to justify the eviction of Portuguese citizens from the Ria Formosa islands in order to 'renaturise' the area.
The current plan is the reason behind the planned destruction of 800 Ria Formosa island properties by the management company Polis Litoral Ria Formosa, with no provision having been made for the resettlement of islanders despite this being a pre-condition for the clearances.
Mayor António Pina suggests that the management plan is altered so that the zones selected for ‘renaturisation’ are changed into zones for the renovation and upgrading of properties so that the existing communities on the islands can have a fresh start and a new life.
Pina said today that the proposal will go to a council meeting next week. If the proposal is voted through it will go to the full Municipal Assembly and then, again if it is successful, will be forwarded to the Ministry of the Environment.
The demolition of properties on the Ria Formosa islands started in December 2014, but has been contested by many individuals who have lost, or are shortly to lose, their only homes.
In late January 2015 a meeting of over 300 islanders from Culatra, Hangares and Farol agreed unsurprisingly that they did not wish to be made homeless and that a legal review was needed, and quickly as the demolition crews were still going about their work with gusto.
For the mayor, this problem is one of territorial management and not a case 'managing environmental problems' as proposed by the Ministry, because some houses are being knocked down and others are being left standing depending on the status of the owner.
"How is it that an area such as the Ria Formosa, which requires extremely careful environmental management, has the destruction of property as a priority?” asked Pina, pointing to the urgent need for the dredging of the Ria Formosa channels to help the struggling shellfishing industry and a pressing need to sort out the problems caused by the unrestricted flow of raw sewage into the estuary.
Pina’s statements today should be taken in the context of his running a council that is a stakeholder in the management company Polis, along with Faro and Tavira councils, only recently has he sniffed the wind of public feeling and sprung into action.
The time for Pina's bold statements and concerned observations was six months ago when Polis, aware that its mandate runs out at the end of 2015, started to plan for the demolition of islanders’ properties.
Only when there is press coverage and a fuss on social media and among his constituents do the mayors statements start to flow and have meaning.
The demolitions and alternative housing provision has been so badly handled both tactically and politically that a mayor with an eye for popularity could make a name for himself by taking a genuine stand on behalf of those who he represents.