Yesterday, 18th February, the Prime Minister of Portugal, José Sócrates, visited Tua to launch the construction of a hydro-electric dam on the river Tua. Graham’s and the Symington family were asked if they would make their Quinta dos Malvedos available for a lunch after the ceremony. Thus after various speeches by the dignitaries, more than 100 people sat down to lunch at Malvedos in various tents arranged in the garden. This lunch included the Prime Minister, various Government Ministers, the Board of the EDP (Portugal’s power-generating public utility), the Presidents of all the local District Councils and many others. Members of the Symington family were on hand to receive the visitors. The Quinta has never seen so many people, even at the height of the vindima (harvest).
The dam is a large project that will employ 1,000 people locally for 5 years, with a further 3,000 employed indirectly. While the dam will produce clean energy for Portugal, it is a controversial project. The dam will flood the lower part of the historic narrow-gauge railway that runs from Tua to Mirandela, although the railway has been out of commission for some years. This project will change beyond recognition one of Portugal’s most beautiful rivers. The spectacular gorges created over millennia by the river in its lower reaches, one of the Douro’s most wonderful sites, will be under water in 5 years, so this unique river will be replaced by a placid lake. The latter will undoubtedly look lovely and is likely to attract visitors who will enjoy what it offers, but it will not be the Tua that we have known.
Those in favour of the dam argue of course that it will produce clean energy and that it will diminish significantly the huge foreign-exchange cost currently incurred by Portugal which has to import much of its energy needs. It is well known that Portugal has serious economic problems which impact directly on public services, so in this sense the project is good for the country.
The Mayors of all the various local districts are content as they have been able to negotiate an arrangement whereby some of the revenue generated by the dam will remain in the area to be used to fund local services. This has never been done before and is a major concession by the central Government and the EDP. There is also talk of creating a natural park that will stretch from the Tua all the way to the Sabor, far to the East of the Douro region. The on-going de-population of the interior of Portugal and of the Douro is a fact, so if this project helps reverse this trend, then that will be a good thing.
By 4.30 pm the last of the guests had left and Branca and Prazeres began to put the Malvedos house back in order and Alexandre Mariz and Snr Arlindo, the viticultor and caseiro, could get back to their normal tasks of caring for the Malvedos vineyards.
Paul Symington, 19th Feb 2011