Start date: 1998

Date of completion: 1998

Environmental Conflict Episode: Vasco da Gama Bridge

The team responsible for the Environmental Conflict Episodes study – which aims to understand the processes and dynamics of environmental awareness and participation in some important conflicts, as well as to assess the assumptions and procedures of the Environmental Impact Assessment methodologies in view of the effectiveness of the current model – has developed, over the last few months, a study about the road crossing over the Tagus in Lisbon – the Vasco da Gama bridge.

The selection of this work as the subject of analysis was mainly based on the following facts:

  1. The construction of the crossing over the Tagus is one of the largest public works carried out in Portugal, and its entire process of conception, adjudication, construction and exploration has been heavily controversial;
  2. The fierce struggle triggered by the choice of location of the new bridge was carried out by different social actors with manifestations of opposite sense in the defense of contradictory interests as to the location of the bridge, having at the same time awakened internal conflicts in the then Government as well as conflicts ;
  3. Vasco da Gama raises, above all, issues related to the planning of the territory that are related to a possible urban concentration on the south bank of the Tagus resulting from the improvement of accessibility, with all the consequences that a situation of this type entails for the environment and social, in the surrounding area at the end of the bridge;
  4. Due to its size, the Vasco da Gama bridge necessarily has strong environmental impacts, namely the Salinas do Samouco, which is part of the Tagus Estuary Natural Reserve, which is well known for the richness of its avifauna;
  5. For the first time, Environmental Protection Associations filed a complaint with the Portuguese State against the Portuguese State in the European Court of Appeals, bringing it to the Brussels bank, while also enabling the Environmental Impact Assessment to take measures to minimize the impacts
    environmental impacts.

The formal request and demand of the scientific opinion, the institutional framework for expressing the various positions, the way of communication between the various actors and the population, the role of the latter – in relation to expertise, policy makers and the purpose of these involve or were the problems that were centrally placed in a conflict that along with some very recent ones was conditioned by the cross-relevance of the technical-scientific and environmental issues and by the importance of this in the situations that several sociological currents have theorized in the last years by risk and that perhaps it is preferable to do it also from the concepts of contingency and uncertainty.

Portugal seems to move quickly from a situation in which the scientific community, not having a past marked by recognition or decisive relevance for the support of the system and political cohesion (in terms of “ideology of progress” and institutionality) is now placed at the crossroads configured by the new responsibilities towards political power (the role of scientific opinion and presence in the sphere of power) with its cloak of pressure and seduction, the social demands and expectations that can make it forget its limits, and the climate of public controversy acute that crosses it internally and that also questions it in its consequences externally. Engineering megaprojects and technical megaestructuresras, born of the will and technological operative capacity that runs alongside its innovation movements, demand markets, produce new artifacts and insist on solutions for the employment system (the “public works “), Which multiply rapidly and constitute the largest financial investments in the country, will be the product
of a single possible rational choice? What role will the articulation drawn between conceptions of urban, nature and technical configuration play in these decisions? Will there be any significant significance to the intra-scientific conflict (carried out by an engineer in the public works portfolio (Ferreira do Amaral) and a leading engineer of an environmental organization (Joanaz de Melo, from the Group of Territorial Planning Studies – GEOTA)?

The struggle over the construction of the Vasco da Gama Bridge, along with the dissent aroused by the open air preservation of the Paleolithic engravings of the Côa Valley, thus highlights the importance of the new technical axis, environmental heritage (and in the second case also cultural) and society has in the relations of power, conflict and mobilization of contemporary Portugal.

Associated Publications: 

Episódio de Conflito Ambiental – O caso da Ponte Vasco da Gama