PONTEVEDRA’S CELLULOSE INDUSTRY: 50 YEARS OF ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION

People who live in Pontevedra, a typical seaside town in the northwest of Spain, are already used to the unpleasant smell produced by the cellulose industry (Ence) which is located in its coast. Nevertheless, this is a lesser evil caused by the factory. Despite the unwearying protests of citizens, it has been degrading the environment for almost 50 years. Several reports have been warning us about the negative effects caused by its effluent and toxic gasses’ emissions. It has a damaging effect on the neighbours’ health, and also on the conservation of the sea. Therefore, it is also providing detrimental to the shellfish gathering and tourism.

Its history dates back to 1958, when the coastal territory of Lourizán was covered and occupied by the factories Ence and Elnosa. Spain was in the depth of Francois period. Neighbours and fishermen protested intensely since the first moment, being harshly repressed. On August 11th 1965, with 300 claims against, and even though it was admitted during the plenary session that the factory was “nuisance and harmful”, the mayor Filgueira Valverde approved the license concession.

The wood pulp production began in 1964, at the same time that a long trajectory of irregularities, failures to comply with the law and aggressions to the environment. The concession itself in an area of public domain forced the company to take “every necessary precaution to avoid the unpleasant smell, fumes, toxic gasses or any other nuisance circumstance to the population”. Specifically it stated that the failure to comply with any of the conditions would cause the expiry of the concession.

The cellulose industry broke systematically the clauses throughout its 50 years of life. The answer of the factory to the protests came in shape of false promises and campaigns to improve its image through the press, visible in many highlights throughout the next decades.

Several official reports (ESCORP, IDASA, RENVCAMG, etc.) demonstrated that the rate of organic and chemical pollution produced by this industry have been exceeding the permitted levels throughout all of these years.

The idiosyncrasy of the region, the peculiarities and natural resources of the ría, with a significant number of people dedicated to shellfish gathering, turns the industrial complex into a far – reaching environmental problem. The impulse of other activities, as culture water and tourism, is being restrained, but they would offer a bigger wealth to the region. However, the different regional governments permitted to Ence-Elnosa the keeping of its activity until the present. And everything points out that the situation will not change in an immediate future.

A long history of claims

Despite reporting repeatedly the company abuses to the regional and European Courts, it wouldn’t happen until 6thNovember 2002 when the Association in Defense of the Ria (APDR, ‘Asociación pola Defensa da Ría’) achieved to put the directors of Ence-Elnosa in the dock, with a favourable sentence. The company was condemned to pay a 432.000€’ indemnity to the regional government, after admitting a continuing offense against the environment during the period 1964-1994.

Consecutive renewals of the licence

When in 2005 the conservative party (PP) lost the regional election, a door for the definitive closure of the factory was open: an election promise of the winner coalition. On the contrary, the new bipartite government gave again the environmental authorization to Ence and Elnosa for three more years. While all of this was going on, a Scientific Department of the Spanish University revealed that the Elnosa emissions of mercury exceeded every advice of the World Health Organization.

2018: end of the concession

 The concession of the territory of public domain which occupies from the 50’s is going to expire in 2018.

The administration (Xunta de Galicia) assures that Ence will not continue in its present location beyond that date.

But the company insists on staying in Lourizán. “We have many years ahead to demonstrate that Ence is good for Galicia”, as uttered by Ignacio Colmenares, the director. He recently stated that the cellulose factory “it’s very well located where it is”, and he does not considerer “other options”. The trade union supported his stance and added that  “if any damage is being caused to the environment, this is just “aesthetic”.

They already suggested the idea of incorporating the complex to the Port of Marín, and evade by doing so the Coastal Law. This measure would guarantee its future in the seacoast with no deadline.

The recession as an argument

The trade union argues that “Pontevedra, with a 20% unemployment rate, cannot lose, in the middle of the crisis, industries which generate so many employments in the region”.

However, the APDR insists “there’s a popular demand” for the definitive withdrawal of Ence and Elnosa and the process to recover the sea life again. The ecologist group puts forward that the present economic crisis cannot “justify” the stance of the company and trade union, defining the argument as “blackmail to the population”. Their opinion is supported by some reports which reveal that the sustainable exploitation of the shellfish and natural resources of the sea, together with the developing of the forest and tourism sectors “would create much more employments than the complex offers now”.

Government contradictions

The relocation of the factory was one of the investiture commitments of Alberto Núñez Feijóo, President of Galicia.

Even though, Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores, recently re-elected as the mayor of Pontevedra, doubts about the veracity of government’s stance in favour of the relocation. Thus, he called upon the Executive to “demonstrate his will” refusing the environmental authorisations (AAI), which would suppose the stoppage of Ence and Elnosa activity without the obligation to wait until 2018. Lores holds that “there is enough information which demonstrate their failure to comply with legal parameters, so there are enough reasons for not giving these authorisations from now”.

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~ by promisegreen on 08/06/2011.

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