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Posted by portugalpress on July 13, 2017

News from Ria Formosa this week suggests at least two access bridges, used by hundreds of holidaymakers every day, are in imminent danger of collapse.

The warnings come from islanders who say they have been trying to alert authorities about the danger for years.

The bridges most at risk are those of Farol, on Culatra island - and Armona, recently the focus of bizarre sand dredging work (see below).

SOS Ria Formosa suggests both could collapse this summer as ferries are “constantly bringing and collecting beachgoers, adding to the stresses and strains on the structures”.

Farol bridge particular is “falling down”, say inhabitants - describing “huge cracks” that authorities simply paint over and “try and hide with cement”.

“The cement then disappears over time. None of the work does anything to improve safety”, campaigner Vanessa Morgado told us, adding that “if dredging work in Armona continues, exactly the same thing will happen there.

“We are tired of trying to wake authorities up to the tragedy that could take place”, she said.

“If these bridges were to collapse during the summer, imagine the horror? It could be terrible.
There are hundreds of people coming to the islands during the summer”.

Polis Litoral Ria Formosa, the government agency undertaking dredging work, has said that it “doubts” the danger of bridge collapses is imminent, and that it also does not believe the removal of sand is “directly related” to the lack of safety of the bridges.

Architect José Pacheco, in charge of the entity, agreed nonetheless that he is “not an expert” and that we should talk to the Sines and Algarve Ports authority, based over 200 kms away, as it is responsible for the condition of the access bridges.

In other words, the body in charge of bridge safety is based miles from the bridges themselves.

When the Resident contacted the ports authority press office it referred us to a communications and image company in Lisbon - another 160 kms further north.

Unimagem told us it will “try and find someone” to answer questions over the bridges’ safety “perhaps some time during the afternoon”, though the person we spoke to said she was unsure that this was a subject within Unimagem’s scope.

It very possibly isn’t - but our attempts at getting answers show the sort of obstacles islanders come up against every time they try to forge improvements or sort out basic questions.

Most of the year, island families are “on their own” in communities dogged with logistical issues, but this is not the case now. The region now is right in the middle of the summer season, and anything that goes wrong today would affect thousands.

All eyes on Armona dredging

Meantime, recent dredging in Armona has caused an understandable uproar.

“Why now?” Is the immediate question, while suspicions have been raised that this is another ruse to be able to cite, further on down the line, “the environmental dangers” of people living on barrier island communities.

“This is exactly what happened in Farol”, Vanessa Morgado recalls. “Hundreds of tons of sand was removed from in front of people’s houses for years who were later told their homes needed to be demolished because they were too close to the shoreline.

“We cannot understand why this sand even had to be removed”, she added. “This is a part of Armona that does not have enough sand. None of this makes sense.”

Morgado explained that one of the Ria’s “big issues” are its silted up sandbanks that have caused numerous boating accidents.

“If the authorities need sand, why didn’t they take it from the sandbanks?” She queried. “It’s of a much better quality than the sand they have been pulling away from Armona”.

Polis’ José Pacheco agreed that the timing of Armona’s dredging has been “unfortunate’, but that various bureaucratic delays pushed the intended April date into the high summer.

“We had to do it now, otherwise we would lose our funding”, he told us this morning - agreeing also that the activity had prompted “bad smells” as a result.

Armona’s stinking sand has been taken to Cavacos beach 3kms further down the coast where it stands out against the little’s cove’s much whiter sand, an unsightly swathe of grey.

The colour will change over time, Pacheco assured, and the improved Cavacos beach will be ready to receive holidaymakers in about “a month and a half”.

Pacheco stressed that the bad smells caused during dredging posed “no danger to people”, and will prove short-lived.

Polis’ position is that it is not behind any of these unpopular decisions. The leading authority is APA (the Portuguese Environment Agency), where former Polis boss Sebastião Teixeira - the islanders’ ‘Public Enemy No 1’ from the ‘bad old days’ when he attempted to push through mass demolitions - still holds the position of director.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com

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