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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

April 19: Lithium Plan Deadline Extended for Public

Updated: Jun 2, 2023


Of the 35 fauna species of conservation concern, 15 are birds. Montagu’s harrier is one of three endangered birds in the proposed mining area. This migratory bird of prey usually lives on cropland between spring and late summer. There are 12 vulnerable species of birds.

 

The Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) extended the public consultation deadline an additional 10 days to April 19 on Savannah Lithium’s revision of its Barroso lithium mining proposal for Vila Real District, Portugal, after an appeal to a 10 working-day period.


The extension is justified due to the complexity and extent of project information, interest on the part of the public and interested parties, namely the municipality of Boticas, in making a pronouncement, and consequent understanding of this aspect by the APA in the spirit of the Aarhus Convention (United Nations Economic Commission’s Convention on Access to information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters), said Nuno Lacasta, President of the Board of Directors of the Portuguese Environment Agency, on the proposed project’s page entry on Participa.


He added that the decision was possible, insofar, as the final decision deadline remains intact.


Please see the end of the story for instructions on how to participate online.


Boticas City Council requested an extension of the deadline for public consultation, reported Sapo (March 23).


“It is humanly impossible (to read and evaluate all the documents),” President Fernando Queiroga of Boticas Municipality, who has opposed the mining project, told Lusa news agency. “It is a new project. I asked the APA to give us more time to analyze the documents because we want to do a careful analysis.”


Savannah Lithium called a sessao de esclarecimento, a meeting of clarification, at a local community center, Centro de Convicio de Couto de Dornelas, for March 26.


The community group, United in Defense of Covas do Barroso, told Visao (March 23): “It is unacceptable that the population is kept at the margins of the process,” which has been the constant criticism of the local populace throughout the process.


The Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) will evaluate Savannah’s Environment Impact Assessment, Alteration of the Project Expansion of the Barroso Mine, which was submitted on March 22. The next step is the decision on the Environmental Impact Statement (DIA), which relates to the environmental viability of a project, according to the Republic of Portugal. The DIA can be favorable; conditionally favorable, or unfavorable. The legislation imposes deadlines, based on several variables, for its issuance.


The Barroso mine would be located in Boticas Municipality in the parishes of Covas do Barroso, Dornelas, and Vilar e Viveiro , but it also would cross the parishes of Canedo and Santa Marinha in Ribeira de Pena Municipality, according to Participa, the portal for the populace to voice its opinions.


The increased demand for electric cars has propelled lithium into the category of “white gold” as mining companies compete for extraction contracts around the world. The light metal is used in batteries for phones, laptops as well as electric cars.


Nickel, cobalt, manganese and graphite are other minerals crucial to battery performance, longevity and energy density, reported the intergovernmental International Energy Agency in The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions.


Due to its large lithium deposits, Portugal is being touted as a key player in the European Union’s transition to green energy. Currently, the EU is wholly dependent on imported battery-grade lithium in an increasingly competitive global market.


I live in the foothills of the Serra da Estrela, which, until February 2022, had been considered for lithium exploration. I oppose lithium mining in Portugal.

 
 

Portugal is not the only country in the world, or Europe for that matter, fighting to protect its land, way of life and cultural heritage. Serbia, which tore up contracts in 2021 with the Anglo-Australian multinational, Rio Tinto, and France are in the same struggle. The New York Times has reported stories behind the global transition from oil and the scramble for clean-energy resources in the series, Race to the Future.


U.N. Envoy on Barroso Mine


United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David R. Boyd, visited Portugal in September 2022. The document on his findings was presented on March 9 during the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council, reported Publico (March 26). It called for the proposed lithium mine in Barroso not to become “a sacrifice zone”.


“It is necessary ‘to identify and restore any sacrifice zones’ – areas of intense pollution or environmental degradation – “where private profits and interests have taken priority over human rights and the environment, also preventing the creation of future sacrifice zones.


“This is a general call for attention, but takes into account a specific case: the (proposed) future exploitation of lithium by the company, Savannah Lithium, in an open-pit mine in the village of Covas do Barroso (Boticas), a region classified as World Agricultural Heritage by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), (of which there are only 60).


“Despite the great need for this mineral to carry out the ongoing ecological transition in Europe and the world, “large resource extraction projects that may violate human rights, in the name of green transition, are contrary to sustainable development, as several national and regional courts and commissions have concluded.


“These ‘sacrifice zones’, reads the report, “are completely incompatible with the human right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment”, enshrined in article 66 of the Portuguese Constitution, and with the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, in accordance with Resolution 76/300 of the United Nations Assembly.


“Portugal deserves credit for leading the world in recognizing the right to a healthy environment, ending the use of coal and accelerating renewable energy production, and rejecting in law offshore oil and gas development. . .

“It would be difficult to reconcile that history of leadership with the approval of a huge open pit mine in a community that is a globally recognized example of sustainable development.”


Savannah Lithium


Savannah Lithium is a subsidiary of Savannah Resources, which is listed on the Alternate Investment Market (AIM) in the London Stock Exchange’s international market for smaller firms, reported Mining.com (May 13, 2021). In its Expansion of the Barroso Mine Environmental Impact Assessment of 2021, it described itself as “focused on prospecting and developing mineral assets, operating projects in several jurisdictions around the world”.


In Savannah’s Environmental Impact Assessment of 2020, which was revised in 2021, the firm proposed an expansion of the concession of 542 to 593 hectares. The project would last an estimated 16 years, including construction and decommissioning.


After completing consideration of the company’s Environmental Impact Assessment in July 2022, the environmental agency gave Savannah six months of working days, or until March 2023, to re-submit a proposal “to further optimize certain aspects of the project and associated environmental, ecological and socio-economic considerations, reported Observador (July 6, 2022).


“Aspects under consideration include adjustments to infrastructure, such as access roads and waste storage areas but also better assessing the impact of the mine on local businesses, the availability of resources and Savannah’s technical expertise, as well as the intention to deepen the project with local communities and the municipality.”

 

In Barroso, in the agro-sylvo-pastoral system, trees are cultivated alongside crops. It was among the first European sites for the FAO to recognize as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.

 

Revised Project Summary


The Barroso Mine Expansion Project: Evaluation of the Revised Project in the Scope of Article 16 of the RJAIA (Regime Juridico de Avaliaçao de Impacte Ambiental), Volume IV – Non-Technical Summary (NTR), said:


The project relates to the proposed expansion of the concession area of Mina do Barroso, for the mining of aplite-pegmatite, with the objective of producing spudomene concentrate and value-added co-products of feldspar and quartz.


(Aplite-pegmatite is a granite that consists mainly of feldspar with embedded quartz. Pegmatites are important sources of metals such as lithium, niobium and tantalum in addition to deposits of tin, beryllium and gems, according to Igneus Petrology. Spodumene is the hard rock lithium-bearing mineral.)


The elements that make up the redesigned project are similar to those in the previous 2021 proposal, according to the revised non-technical summary.



A lavaria, or separating facility, would receive rock with an average content of about 1% of Li2O, or lithium oxide, concentrating it up to approximately 5.5 to 6.0% lithium oxide. During this process, the mass will be reduced from around 1,500,000 tons/year (input) to

approximately 180,000 t/year (output).


Lithium oxide is a white solid, according to Lithium and Lithium Compounds, Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry.


The Mina do Barroso lavaria would contain the following primary processing areas: crushing; primary crusher and secondary and tertiary crushers; mica removal; reflux classifier; milling; ball mill; magnetic separation; WHIMS (Wet High Intensity Magnetic Separation); fluctuation; filtration, removal of excess water and storage of the concentrate, and filtration and removal of excess water and storage of tailings.


The average amount of mined mineralization would be about 1,446,000 t/year, according to Savannah’s April 2021 non-technical summary. Over the 12 years, the extraction would vary between 1,023,000 t/year and 1,604,000 t/year. In terms of waste, the average amount to be extracted annually would be about 6,851,000 t/year, with a minimum of 2,119,000 t/year and a maximum of 11,528,000 t/year.


The dismantling of the material would be carried out in the open, using explosives. The dissembled material would be loaded by wheel loaders or rotary excavators to dumpers and transported to their different destinations. A gross mineralization would be transported to the lavaria, where it would be treated for the obtaining of two products: spudomene concentrate (export), and quartz and feldspar (ceramic industry and glass).


According to the revised non-technical summary:


Mining exploration would encompass 4 cuts (Pinheiro, Grandao, NOA, Reservatorio).


In addition, there would be mining annexes comprising a lavaria separating facility; waste facilities (sterile and rejected material); water management structures, external and internal accesses, and an electrical line, which would be relocated elsewhere.


Overall Conclusion


The conclusion of the revised non-technical summary said:


“It is concluded that in the construction and closing phase, the impacts, although negative, are of little significance due to the duration of the work, its nature and intensity.


“However, it is in the exploration phase that the main significant impacts of the project are registered. Significant unfavorable effects are evident in terms of landscape allocation, mainly associated with the installation of the lavaria separating facility, rock-breaking in the cuts and filling the heaps; the allocation of water resources, with changes in drainage patterns and hydromorphological conditions, and of the social component, due to the need for land acquisition and economic displacement.


“Despite this, the improvements caused by the revising of the project made it possible to reduce the significance of the negative impacts compared to those of the previous project.


“On the other hand, the positive impacts of the project are highlighted, such as the strategic positioning of Portugal in the face of European lithium policies and the dynamism of the socio-economic framework.


“The creation of a topsoil storage facility, the revegetation of the affected areas and the implementation of the Environmental and Landscape Recovery Project (PARP), with transversal effects to the environment factors analyzed, were aspects also considered as significant, in the reassessment of project impacts.


“Another positive aspect is the economic growth driven by investment in the lithium industry, such as the stimulus to technological development caused by the exploitation of a key component of electric vehicle batteries, a central factor in national energy transition policies and European.


“The adoption of the recommended minimization measures and their correct environmental

monitoring would guarantee the reduced significance of impacts.


“Also noteworthy are the planned Monitoring Plans, comprehensive and focusing on virtually all environmental issues under analysis, as well as the proposed Compensatory Measures, focused essentially on that dimension.”

 

A spudomene-rich outcropping pegmatite from Barroso-Alvao region (Photo by David Silva)

 

Proposed Changes


The revised proposal documents cited the following changes:


- Sequencing mining exploration: Pinheiro – Grandao – NOA- Reservatorio;

- Optimizing location of the lavaria, where the spudomene would be separated from the rock, to be located northeast of Pinheiro. Waste structures would include 3 permanent and 1 temporary one along with 1 tailings storage facility for processing rejects. Water-management structures would include 3 clean-water reservoirs, 2 sediment-control reservoirs, 1 environmental control, and various channels and water pipes;

- Locating infrastructures farther away from water courses;

- Reducing the number of water reservoirs by increasing their capacity;

- Re-using water in the industrial process;

- Optimizing layout of external access with a link to the A24 composed of existing and new road, and a new corridor, and part of the internal accesses;

- Reducing administrative allocation and costs of ecological systems;

- Diverting electrical line to allow the exploitation of the Grandao cutting. The existing line is a 60 kV (kilovolt) overhead line that connects the Covas de Barroso to the substation from E-Redes located in Fonte de Mouro;

- Minimizing land acquisition;

- Planning progressive rehabilitation;

- Limiting emission of suspended air particles through sprinkler systems;

- Scheduling detonations at less disruptive times;

- Mapping the demand and supply of skills;

- Supporting local business projects;

- Contributing to the development of skills in the local community;

- Seeking community input.


The revised proposal eliminated activities during the night as compared with the previous plan’s 24-hour mining operation. The revised proposal concentrated noisier activities on weekdays between 12:00 and 15:00 compared with the previous plan to restrict noisier operations to daytime and weekdays.


The elements that make up the redesigned project, similar to those of the previous project, can be divided into four groups: mining exploration of cuts; mining accesses; accesses, and power line. The only elements not aforementioned are support buildings (workshop, administration and support offices) as well as storage areas for topsoil resulting from soil stripping for the area’s rehabilitation.


Raised Issues


Savannah’s revised Environmental Impact Assessment on Ecological Systems stated the issues raised by the environmental agency’s evaluation committee as follows:


Ecological Systems: Potential disturbance of species, such as river mussel, red-billed crow and the gray wolf;


Water Resources: the presence of mining elements on drainage lines and the possible deterioration in the quality of surface water;


Landscape: the lack of landscape compatibility due to the area’s classification as a United Nations Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System;


Social Component: high degree of discomfort caused by intense and continued exploration, the effect on air quality and the possible loss of United Nations Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System status.


Ecological Systems


In a separate document, Ecological Systems, the company studied the proposed concession area, the accesses (to which it added a 20-meter buffer), the water lines (Couto stream, Covas River, and specific areas of the Beça River in the municipalities of Boticas and Ribeira de Pena.


The species are categorized on a scale that consists of Extinct; Extinct in the wild; Critically endangered; Endangered; Vulnerable; Near threatened; Least concern; Data deficient, and Not evaluated.

 

Of the 35 fauna species of conservation concern, 9 are mammals. The gray wolf is an endangered species. “The study area does not intersect the known territory of any pack, but it is possible to notice that there are several packs in the surroundings. . . . It is considered likely that the species uses the area regularly.”


A critically endangered mammal species is the Mediterranean horseshoe bat. Vulnerable species are the wild cat; water mole; greater horseshoe bat; lesser bat; greater mouse-eared bat; southern fringe bat, and teddy bear bat.

 

Mammals: The study inventoried 50 species of mammals, 20 with possible occurrence and 30 with confirmed occurrence.


During the fieldwork, evidence of the presence of 7 species was found, 1 with conservation status: stuffed bat (Miniopterus schreibersii), and 6 without conservation status: weasel (Mustela nivalis); wild boar (Sus crofa); badger (Meles meles) and dwarf bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus).


The research allowed identifying the presence of 9 species with status in the area, of which 6 have confirmed presence. Of the 9 species, 7 are classified as vulnerable, 1 as endangered and 1 as critically endangered, according to the Livro Vermelho dos Vertebrados de Portugal (Red Book of Vertebrates in Portugal).


The endangered species is the gray wolf (Canis lupus).


(The footprint of a large canid was observed in the study area, next to Alto da Misarela. It was not possible to unequivocally identify as being that of a wolf. It appears that data are scarce for the concession area and for the Covas River area, with no records developed specifically in this area. Even so, it is considered very likely that the species uses it regularly.


(The study area does not intersect the known territory of any pack, but it is possible to notice that there are several packs in the surroundings, according to Pimenta et al. There are also several records of evidence of its presence near the proposed concession area of 20143 and 20154 (numbered UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) squares of 10 X10 km.). There are records of damage caused by the wolf along the northeast access in 20175, and near the other two accesses that follow north in 20176. Studies carried out within the scope of monitoring the wolf at the Montalegre Wind Farm, whose monitoring area did not cover the proposed area for the extension of the Barroso Mine, also made it possible to identify an area of wolf breeding, about 5 kilometers to the west of the area.)


The critically endangered species is the Mediterranean horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus euryale).


Vulnerable species are the wild cat (Felis silvestris); water mole (Galemys pyrenaicus); greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum); lesser bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros); greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis); southern fringe bat (Myotis escalerai), and teddy bear bat (Miniopterus schreibersii).


Birds: It was possible to inventory 131 bird species with confirmed occurrence. From this list, 15 species have an unfavorable conservation status.


Three species are endangered: Montagu’s harrier (Circus pygargus); common rock thrush (Monticola saxatilis), and red-billed crow (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax).


During the fieldwork, 52 species of birds were identified, including 1 that has endangered status: Montagu’s harrier (Circus pygargus).


Despite the overlapping of the study area with the critical area related to the shelter of the red-billed crow, this species was not observed during the fieldwork, with no records to attest to its occurrence in place. It nests about 3 km. from the proposed concession area boundary (a very critical area). Effectively, according to the available bibliography and considering the studied UTM squares, only in the UTM square NG91 is the presence of the species referred to as nesting. It was also in this square, about 7.5 km. north of the study area that, according to data sent by the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF), birds of the species were observed in 20154 and 20165. In a work dedicated to the species in Serra do Barroso, the red-billed crow was absent from the study area for nesting, roosting or feeding areas.


Fauna of Major Relevance: The application of the criteria defined in the methodology chapter allowed us to define 35 endemic species as being more relevant in terms of biodiversity conservation, 25 of them confirmed in the study area. They are:


Birds:


Montagu’s harrier (Circus pygargus), Endangered;

Common rock thrush (Monticola saxatilis), Endangered;

Red-billed crow (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), Endangered;

Black stork (Ciconia nigra), Vulnerable;

Horned buzzard (Pernis apivorus), Vulnerable;

Red kite (Milvus milvus), Vulnerable;

Gray harrier (Circus cyaneus), Vulnerable;

Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), Vulnerable:

Merlin (Falco columbarius), Vulnerable:

Ogea, Eurasian eagle (Falco subbuteo), Vulnerable:

Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), Vulnerable;

Nighthawk (Caprimulgus europaeus), Vulnerable;

Northern stonechat (Saxicola rubetra), Vulnerable;

Fig warbler (Sylvia borin), Vulnerable;

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citronella), Vulnerable.


Mammals:


Mediterranean horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus euryale), Critically endangered;

Gray wolf (Canis lupus), Endangered;

Water mole (Galemys pyrenaicus), Vulnerable;

Greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum), Vulnerable;

Lesser bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), Vulnerable;

Greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis), Vulnerable;

Southern fringe bat (Myotis escalerai), Vulnerable,

Teddy bear bat (Miniopterus schreibersii); Vulnerable;

Wildcat (Felis silvestris), Vulnerable.


Fish:


Verdema do Norte (Cobitis calderni), Endangered;

Bordalo (Squalius alburnoides), Vulnerable.



Bivalve:


River Mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera), Endangered;

River mussel (Potomida littoralis), Endangered.


Amphibian:


Lusitanian salamander (Chioglossa lusitanica), Vulnerable;

Webbed Newt (Triturus helveticus), Vulnerable.


Reptile:


Seoane’s viper (Vipera seoanei), Endangered;

European smooth snake (Coronella austriaca), Vulnerable;

Horned viper (Vipera latastei), Vulnerable.



Insect:


Great capricorn beetle (Cerambyx cerdo), Vulnerable;

Dragonfly species (Macromia splendens), Vulnerable.

 

Of flora, 22 species were of greatest interest for conservation. Veronica micrantha is native only in Portugal and is endangered and protected. Some of the other species are cork oak; common holly; heath-spotted orchid and tongue-orchid. (Photo by Fernando Romao)

 

Flora


The previous Environmental Impact Assessment identified 22 species of flora of greatest interest for conservation, according to the Community Profile and Social Identification Issues document of the revised proposal.


The 2021 summary of the non-technical Environmental Impact Assessment also said that there were 373 species of flora were inventoried, distributed over 74 botanical families.


During the fieldwork, 211 of these species were recorded, of which 5 are of high value for conservation: Veronica micrantha, Endangered and native only to Portugal; cork oak (Quercus suber), Protected; Common holly, azevinho (Ilex aquifolium), Protected; heath-spotted orchid, (Dactylorhiza maculate), and tongue-orchid (Serapias lingua.)


Water Resources


Surface Water


The Water Resources document of the revised Environmental Impact Assessment said:


“The revision of the Mina do Barroso project undoubtedly implies the modification of the physical characteristics of the surface water masses identified in the (proposed) concession area.


“However, the physical changes to be carried out with the implementation of the project will not directly affect the main watercourse of the water bodies of the Covas River and the Beça River, but rather on permanent water lines, with strong seasonal variation.”


Four tributary sub-basins of the Covas River (Fojo, Pinheiro, Miserela and Cortiços) would be affected directly.


The total affected area corresponds to 6 percent of the water mass of the Covas River and 2 percent of the Beça River. The length of the Covas River, the main water course, that would be affected indirectly would be about 6 kilometers out of a total of 23 kilometers.


The water quality of the Covas River is classified as “less than good” by the Water Framework Directive of the European Environment Agency, noted the revised Water Resources document.


Groundwater


During the exploration phase, it is expected that there would be impacts on the amount of groundwater in the cuttings below the exploration.


“The project foresees a set of mitigation measures so that the impacts of the amount of groundwater are minimized, restoring the water table levels to the situation before the exploration phase.”


North Access – New Road and Motorway Link


According to the Preliminary Study of the North Access document of the revised proposal:


The north access would divert heavy traffic from the interior of Boticas and the surrounding areas associated with operation of the Barroso mine.


The study begins in Carreira da Lebre and ends with a connection to the A24 motorway at Boticas/Carvalheiros junction.


There were two proposed corridors. Corridor 1 (11,417 km) would start west of Carreira da Lebre. It would be a new route, including one or, possibly, two new roundabouts, avoiding the existing winding road and urban areas. Although composed of several curves and counter-curves, the corridor would have a radius suitable for at least a speed of 60 km/hr.


The connection to the A24 (6,000 km) would mostly be a new road as it would incorporate 1,260 meters of the existing N (National)103, including the crossing of a gorge between two mountains. It would start on the N103 road at a proposed roundabout at the end of Corridor 1 and include two new proposed roundabouts.


The existing roads would undergo widening.


In later phases of the preliminary study, the changes would include drainage.


The estimated cost of the work alone would be €30,697,936.


The cost estimate only refers to the cost of the work, so no expropriation or temporary occupation costs were estimated, which must be assessed separately, according to the document.


The estimated expenditure is five times that of the €6 million that David Archer, Savannah’s previous Chief Executive Officer, had said the company would invest in a bypass road, reported Euronews (April 24, 2021).

 

At one of six posts monitored for traffic at 7 time slots from 17:00 to 19:30 between 5:15 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. on the workday afternoon rush-hour. (Photo from Savannah Lithium: Barroso Mine: Traffic Study Report, November 2022)

 

Traffic


According to The Study of Traffic:


From the quantitative (traffic volumes) and qualitative (service levels) analysis of the current situation, it appears that:


The number of vehicles sighted at 6 different posts at 7 time slots from 17:00 to 19:30 peaked at 1, 293 between 5:15 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. in the workday afternoon rush-hour.


It is estimated that Mina do Barroso would generate/attract traffic in the afternoon rush hour on a working day of 53 vehicles (21 entries and 32 exits), according to The Study of Traffic.


The road network performed well in the current situation.


The analyzes carried out refer to the years 2025 and 2035 (respectively, the year in which all the new valences associated with the undertaking under study are considered to come into operation and 10 years after this base year), at the peak hour of the afternoon of the working day, as these are the most critical periods for commuting.


Social Issues


According to the document, Community Profile and Social Identification Issues, of the revised Environmental Assessment Impact:


“The potential loss of environmental quality due to project activities (e.g., through changes in landscape and water flows, and increased nuisances, such as dust, noise and truck traffic, is a concern among community members and stakeholders. Those who live near the open-pit mines are seen as particularly exposed to potential negative impacts.”


The culture, tradition and sense of identity of the Barroso region, including the proposed project area, are centered in a strong connection to the land and natural resources, according to the revised Community Profile community.


The FAO designated the traditional Barroso Agro-Silvo-Pastoral system area as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System in 2018, stated the revised document.


The U.N. organization defined these systems as “agroecosystems inhabited by communities that live in an intricate relationship with their territory. These evolving sites are resilient systems characterized by remarkable agrobiodiversity, traditional knowledge, invaluable cultures and landscapes, sustainably managed by farmers, herders, fisherfolk, and forest people in ways that contribute to their livelihoods and food security.”


The revised Community Profile document said:


“The acquisition of some of these lands by the (proposed) project is a potential source of tension with local communities and organizations, and places that defend the interests of the (baldios) common land.”


The document said that Savannah would minimize land acquisition.


“Land acquisition began in 2021, aided by Landfound, a company that specialized in mapping subcontracted by Savannah Resources, targeting 80 hectares of land on private farms.


“Revised estimates are that 280 hectares of private agricultural land will be acquired by the project. So far, 89 private properties of interested sellers were acquired by the proposed project, with around 300 still to be acquired. The procurement process has been suspended in accordance with Article 16 of the APA and (would) only be resumed after the EIA(Environmental Impact Assessment) approval. . . .


“Where there is a possibility of expropriation under a mining lease agreement, and where interested buyers and willing sellers do not apply, the conditions exist for involuntary resettlement. . . . "


Difficulties in estimating the amounts of private land to be acquired are because sometimes private lands are not properly registered and measured, and some properties are not claimed.


For this, the process needs to rely on old documentation and the help of community members. This has been a source of tension between associations of baldios, or common land, and private owners, with complaints from both interested parties that one is trying to claim another’s property as its own. Interviews with community members pointed to ongoing lawsuits, according to the revised document.


Disputes over land ownership suggest that existing tensions from the project are having a deleterious effect on the procurement process. There is a need for more information on land tenure.


Some community members are worried that the proposed project would harm Denomination of Origin (PDO) products, such as meats and honey, which have cultural and economic value to the communities, and that it would destroy plans to increase tourism.


The study said that it used data from 21 interviews with community members and stakeholders in September and October 2022, media analysis and review of literature such as official statistics, public reports and documents related to the proposed project.


The study recommended “participatory workshops” organized with the local communities and stakeholders to select the factors valuable for their well-being. It also suggested considering more alternatives for land use after the proposed project completion through community feedback on ways to leave a positive legacy and share ownership.


The decline of the area’s population was a concern for some community respondents. From 2011-2021, the population dropped 12.8 percent in Boticas Municipality; 27 percent in the parish of Covas do Barroso, and 18.9 percent in the parish of Dornelas from 5,731 to 5,000.


The proposed project area also has an aging population and higher illiteracy (9.7 percent compared to 3.1 percent nationally).


“Finding a local workforce with the necessary skills and qualifications to support (proposed) project operations will be a challenge. It (would) be fundamental to work with the municipality.”


The study recommended issues to explore, including the potential impact of return migration of the working-age population motivated by employment opportunities, population vulnerabilities and gender equalities.


Economic Update, Good Neighborhood Plan (2021 EIA)


The revised Economic and Social impacts Update said there would be “a correction of the values of royalties to be enjoyed locally.”


According to the revised Economic and Social impacts Update:


The revised project foresees a significant increase in investment (and expenditure), as well as transfers to residents, communities and baldios, or common land, direct or via the Fund. It is estimated that the expenditure associated with the project (investment, renovation, operation and closure) would lead to an increase in the gross value of national production of €420 million in the investment phase and €210 million per year in the development phase.


The contribution to the formation of the GDP (gross domestic product) is about €173 million in the investment phase and more than €95 million per year in the operation phase.


(According to the World Bank, Portugal’s GDP in 2020 was U.S. $231.23 billion.)


The impact on employment, directly, indirectly and induced, would be more than 4,700 jobs (annual equivalent) in the investment phase, and 2,250 in the operation phase.


During this phase, the public revenue, nationwide, generated by the project would exceed €75 million annually.


Savannah’s 2021 Environmental Impact Assessment proposed a Good Neighborhood Plan, which would include a transport fleet for mine workers that also would serve the local population in the absence of workers.


Also considered was the acquisition of a van for the Santa Casa da Misericordia, facilitating the displacement of the population and supporting health services.


Savannah would commit an annual allocation of €500,000 to carry out the Benefit Sharing Plan. It estimated an operating value of €100,000 per year for compliance with the Good Neighbor Plan.

 

Savannah opened a new center of information in the center of Boticas, at Rua 5 de Outubro, 26. “We think it’s important to be closer to the communities. We invite everyone to visit us,” Joana Prazeres, director of communication and community affairs, told Diario de Chaves (May 11, 2022.)

 

Savannah’s History


When the environmental agency instructed Savannah in July 2022 to revise its Environment Impact Assessment, its share price immediately plunged 30 percent to 2.33 pence in London, reported the investment firm, Morningstar (July 6, 2022).


At the same time, the Chief Executive Officer, David Archer, stepped down after nine years at the helm. Dale Ferguson, the company’s technical director, assumed the role on an interim basis, reported Proactive Investors (July 6, 2022).


The company statement said, according to Observador (July 6, 2022):


“Assuming a positive decision is received (by March 2023) or earlier, we believe that project development will still be on track to be able to supply concentrate for Europe’s first-generation lithium conversion plants when they come on stream in the middle of the year” adding that it has “a healthy cash-flow situation, which will comfortably help us in this licensing process and in the next phase of the definitive feasibility study.”


Mining.com (July 6, 2022) wrote: “While technical issues are usually easy to address, analysts note that opening the project’s EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) to comment from local stakeholders will be a problem.”


Savannah was incorporated in 2010. Having assumed an initial 75% interest in the Barroso Mine in May 2017, it subsequently became the mine’s sole owner and expanded the project by adding the proposed concession license for the adjacent deposit “Aldeia” (3 blocks totaling 2.94 square kilometers) to the original C-100 Concession License granted (5.42 square kilometers), valid until 2036, extendable for 20 years”.


The company’s previous Environment Impact Assessment in 2021 said that Savannah had three projects in development: a heavy sands project in partnership with the United Kingdom-based multinational company, Rio Tinto, in Mozambique, where an exploration contract was recently awarded; a copper project in Oman, which is in its final licensing phase for the mine; and the project from the Barroso Mine in Portugal.


Since then, Savannah has pulled out of Mozambique and ilmenite exploration to focus on lithium exploration in Portugal, it said in a statement, according to Lusa news agency (December 1, 2021).


(Ilmenite is the most important ore of titanium, which can be alloyed with other elements to produce strong, lightweight alloys for aerospace among other uses.)


“The consortium agreement concluded with Rio Tinto – originally announced on October 11, 2016 – will be amicably terminated with immediate effect”.


Rio Tinto paid U.S. $9.5 million (€8.37 million) in cash to Savannah’s British subsidiary “for termination of the consortium agreement and the transfer of the team” to the partner company, which now assumes “entirely the responsibility for the Mutamba project.”


As for its copper projects in Oman, according to Savannah Resources (September 1, 2020), the company agreed to divest its interests to Force Commodities, an Australian company:


“With the Company’s focus moving to the development and subsequent commercialization of the Mina do Barroso Lithium project in Portugal, which continues to increase in significance from a European battery value chain perspective, an opportunity has arisen to divest our Omani Copper Projects to Australian-listed company, Force Commodities, said David Archer, Savannah’s Chief Executive Officer at the time.


“The divestment allows us to retain exposure to the upside of the Projects through the shareholding in Force, together with a loan and royalty payable when the projects go into production.”


History of Lawsuit


The parish council of Covas do Barroso filed a lawsuit against the Portuguese State and the Ministry of the Economy over the exploitation of lithium in the Barroso mine, reported Lusa news agency in Jornal de Negocios (February 11, 2022). Savannah Resources said that it constituted itself as a counter-interest in the legal process through its subsidiary in Portugal, Savannah Lithium.


The lawsuit claimed that the Barroso mine never had the right to exploit lithium, only the right to mine feldspar and quartz.


In February, Savannah said that the Republic of Portugal, the Portuguese Ministry of Economy, alongside Savannah Resources as a counter-interested party, had been acquitted as defendants, reported Alliance News for the investment firm, Morningstar (February 23).


As a result, the lawsuit will be extinguished, unless Covas do Barroso files an appeal within 30 days, according to Savannah, which said that the lawsuit neither impacts the Barroso mine’s activities nor the current environmental impact assessment process.


The parish council explained the background to the lawsuit to Jornal de Negocios (February 11, 2022):

In 2006, the State and Saibrais – Aerias e Caulinos, S.A. signed a concession contract for the exploration of mineral deposits of feldspar and quartz for 120 hectares under the name, Mina do Barroso, having been approved by the Environmental Impact Assessment only for those two minerals.


In 2016, an amendment to the 2006 concession contract was signed by the company and the State “maintaining the legal obligation inherent to the concessionaire and the obligation to carry out the exploration works in accordance with the Environmental Impact Assessment” issued previously.


“Since prospecting and exploitation of the lithium mineral had not been approved in the contract dated May 12, 2006, the amendment to the contract could not include the allocation of any minerals other than feldspar and quartz,” explained the parish council, stressing that it “could never have been awarded the concession of lithium mining exploration.”


Furthermore, the parish council said that “there could not have been any change in the cadastre registration CC-DM.032 to C-100, nor has the planned area of 120 hectares been changed to an area that exceeds 500 hectares.”



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