Dammed if we don’t: 60-year project vetoed

Navia river villages seek compensation for decades of lost investment

Madrid -
View of the Navia river at the point where the Suarna reservoir was planned.
View of the Navia river at the point where the Suarna reservoir was planned. XOSÉ MARRA

A 60-year-old project to divert the Navia river in Lugo to construct a dam finally met its end this week when the Environment Ministry quashed it on ecological grounds.

The story began in 1951 when a company called Saltos de Navia, joint-owned by electricity companies Endesa and HC, proposed constructing a 75-meter dam in the area. Work began in 1964 but was halted by ferocious opposition from residents of four villages that would have been submerged by the project. By 1975, the proposed construction had risen to 150 meters.

After a series of setbacks, the Socialist government in 1995 gave the dam the go-ahead, reasoning that the license granted by the Franco regime was valid and no environmental impact study required.

The local administration in Navia de Suarna, one of the villages condemned to a subaquatic future by the scheme, appealed the government’s decision and the Supreme Court ruled in its favor, citing European rules on environmental impact reports. But Saltos de Navia was not to be deterred. In 2007, it presented an amended plan to the ministry for a 96-meter dam.

However, as was to be expected, a 1951 project proposal was never likely to meet the stringent environmental standards of the 21st century. The ministry stated that “the justification for the project, based on the fight against climate change and the generation of clean energy, is insufficient.” The project would have had grave repercussions for two natural reserves populated by threatened species including the Cantabrian brown bear, the otter, the Pyrenean desman (a waterborne mole of the family Talpidae) and the river mother of pearl.

Fifteen archeological sites would have been submerged, but the company qualified the environmental impact as “moderate, as they would not have been destroyed.”

“We have always lived with the threat of the dam,” said Navia Mayor José Fernández. “Nobody has wanted to invest in the area for fear of the project.” Local villages would seek compensation, he added.

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