Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hunting Quarry: Mallorca's mining law

In 1989 the Sa Truiola coal mine in Lloseta was closed, and with its closure came an end to coal mining in Mallorca that had occurred since at least the first half of the nineteenth century. Once upon a time, in the 1930s, mines in Lloseta, Selva, Consell, Sineu and Binissalem provided 85% of the island's coal requirements for generating electricity. There were other mines, those for iron and copper, but they, like the coal mines, are things very much of the past. The only mining which occurs in Mallorca now is quarrying.

Stone that is extracted around Mallorca has different characteristics, ranging in colour from the almost pure white, such as a stone from Petra, to golden in Porreres, and it is the quarry in Porreres which is one of the main targets of a mining law that is to be brought before the Balearics Parliament. The quarry, argues the regional government, is too big and too much of a blot on the landscape. Quarries such as it and one in Establiments will not be possible in future while they are going to have be restored in such a way as to minimise their current visual impact.

In the case of the Establiments quarry, it hasn't been worked on for ten years. Activity there started in the 1950s and an authorisation of sorts came from the national industry ministry in 1959, but there was always a dispute as to whether there was a licence for quarrying to be carried out. Almost thirty years later, in 1988, a court decision upheld an appeal by Palma's city council to deny a licence for one of what are in fact two quarries. Between 1981 and 1994, there were four separate legal resolutions which deemed that the quarrying was illegal. Regardless of whatever courts decided or the city council wished, it wasn't to be until 2004 that work at the quarry ceased. It was closed but it most certainly wasn't forgotten. "An open wound on the Palma skyline" is just one description.

When Establiments was closed, the land was supposed to have been regenerated. It wasn't and still hasn't been. There was some hope that it might have been when Jaume Matas became president in 2007. 25 million euros were due to have been spent on a plan that would have turned the former quarry into an area with sports facilities, walks, playgrounds and what have you. But as we know, Matas was full of grand and ambitious plans that cost a great deal of money. Unlike some others on which great deals of money were spent, the plan for the quarry never went further than an election promise.

Under the mining bill that the government is to introduce, a Mining Council will be created, and this body will oversee existing quarries and authorise new works. Where Establiments is concerned, the council will, so it is hoped, force the owners to undertake the regeneration that should have started ten years ago. The council will also ensure that new phases of quarrying cannot start until the land at existing ones is restored. The bill will also give the government the right to expropriate quarries in order to ensure that they are regenerated. Bonds, as a form of guarantee for quarrying, are to be increased substantially, and these could, if necessary, be withheld by the government in order to cover the costs of regeneration that an owner fails to do. 

While this all sounds reasonable enough, will a new law and a new council be any more effective in enforcement than has been the case up till now? It hardly needs pointing out that the track record with enforcement has not been good. And how effective might this new council be? It is to be made up of representatives from government, the industry, various institutions (unspecified at present) and environmental organisations, which probably means GOB or Friends of the Earth (Amics de la Terra in its Mallorcan guise). The government's director-general for industry and energy has made a point of talking to and involving the environmental groups in the drafting of the bill, but while such a multi-agency council sounds good in theory, would its differing representatives be able to agree on anything?

Still, if the government has discovered something of an environmental consciousness in addressing the absurdity of the quarrying at Establiments without the appropriate licences and checks and balances, then good for it. But there is an irony in the government indicating that it will be acting tough in one way to restore the landscape while in another way it has adopted a different approach in the Ley del Suelo that has just been approved. Under this there will be an amnesty for illegal buildings on rural land (said to number around 20,000). One law for one, one law for another.

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