Serra do Curral, Belo Horizonte’s historical and cultural symbol, has been targeted for at least 60 years by real estate projects, such as luxury condominiums and mansions in the Mangabeiras neighborhood, and by mining companies, such as the more recently megaproject by Taquaril Mineração SA ( Thames).
The population resists and organizes itself for the integral protection of the green area, to guarantee, in addition to the landscape, the rich biodiversity and the various springs that supply the Metropolitan Region.
The latest news of this environmental conflict involves the request for revision of the dossier produced by the State Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage of Minas Gerais (Iepha), a document that calls for the state registration of Serra Curral. The request to revise the study was announced last month by Leônidas Oliveira, secretary of Culture and Tourism of the state government of Romeu Zema (Novo), at a public hearing held at the Legislative Assembly of Minas Gerais (ALMG).
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At the time, questioned by Congresswoman Beatriz Cerqueira (PT), the secretary reported accusations of “irregularities in the contract” in the dossier that established the limits for preservation, recovery, controlled occupation and the surroundings. This study by Iepha was commissioned by the Public Ministry of the State of Minas Gerais (MP-MG).
“We realized that the most representative geographic landmark of the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte does not have effective legal protection in its entirety. Nova Lima and Sabará are susceptible to the impacts of mineral exploration and real estate activity,” said promoter Marcelo Maffra.
Serra do Curral was listed by the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (Iphan) in the 1960s and, in 1991, it was listed by the city of Belo Horizonte. However, for Marcelo Maffra, these landmarks are not being enough to guarantee the preservation of the area.
“The federal listing is restricted to higher and steeper points, while the municipal one only covers one side of the mountain range”, he explained.
The listing must be voted on by the State Council for Cultural Heritage (Conep), but with the request for review of the dossier made by the state government, there is no scheduled date for discussion of the agenda.
For Jeanine Oliveira, who is a member of the Movement Messed with Serra do Curral, Messed with Me, the Zema government is “rolling up” the registration process because its interests are linked to mining companies and construction companies that live off real estate speculation. “Zema is snubbing the effort that all of us in society have made. And he is still saying that the document did not consider crucial things, such as the economic issue”, he criticizes.
The environmental activist explains that the dossier carried out by Iepha was funded with resources for environmental compensation. The document contains 1,615 pages, with historical, cultural and natural information about Serra do Curral, in addition to a survey of various risks that justify its immediate registration.
“We should be increasing the level of environmental protection or even rebuilding the nature that has already been lost, to help infiltrate water, have quality food and air, and protect people’s health. But not. We have a government totally against that”, he completes.
Thames intends to install the mining complex 7 kilometers from the center of the capital of Minas Gerais
Belo Horizonte councilwoman Duda Salabert (PDT) interprets Romeu Zema’s government stance as a “great setback”, as it discredits the technical study, in addition to corroborating the interests of economic groups to the detriment of the population’s concerns.
“If the government does not topple Serra do Curral within the perimeter determined by the Iepha dossier, and gives space to mining and real estate speculation, Zema will bury his political career. Because the popular interest in state registration and in the integral preservation of the mountain is unquestionable”, evaluates the congresswoman.
In April of this year, at the Municipality of Belo Horizonte, a public hearing was held to debate the various social, environmental and cultural impacts of the Thames project in Serra do Curral. Mining company representatives did not attend.
The Department of Culture and Tourism was contacted by the article to comment on the matter and update on the progress of the dossier analysis process. However, it did not respond to the demand.
Thames intends to install the Serra do Taquaril Mining Complex about 500 meters from houses in the Taquaril community, in the eastern region of Belo Horizonte, and 7 kilometers from the center of the state capital. The impacts, therefore, go beyond environmental destruction and de-characterization of the Serra do Curral historical landscape.
“There is the noise of mining and machinery operating 24 hours, the movement of trucks, the explosions that cause not only sound impacts, but also the vibration of houses, which can cause cracks in buildings”, points out Luiz Paulo Siqueira, from the Movement for Popular Sovereignty in Mining (MAM). In addition, the dust from the project can reach the center of Belo Horizonte.
“The intense dust causes loss of quality of life, people will have to live with a closed window, which is very common in mined municipalities, especially during the dry season. And with that there is an overload of domestic work, which is mostly carried out by women. And there are health problems, which are very serious, in other words, diseases of the skin, eyes and, above all, in the respiratory tract”, he assesses.
Mining and water crisis
Serra do Curral is home to springs that feed the basins of the Velhas and Paraopeba rivers, the two water courses that guarantee the water supply in the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte. If approved, the Taquaril Complex could directly interfere with the collection of Bela Fama, from the Minas Gerais Sanitation Company (Copasa), in Nova Lima, responsible for supplying about 70% of the population of the capital and 40% of the RMBH.
According to Movimento Mexeu com Serra do Curral, Mexeu Comigo, the Thames project will cross twice with the Copasa pipeline. In addition to the physical impact on catchment structures, there is concern about water contamination and erosion caused by mining, which can interfere with the recharge of the Cauê aquifer, the main underground water reservoir in the entire Iron Quadrangle.
The project presented by Thames in January 2020, which is in the environmental licensing phase at the Department of Environment and Sustainable Development (Semad), provides for the opening of three cellars that, according to Luiz, will generate several stacks of stereo – which are materials of interest commercially, such as earth, rocks, vegetation, etc. – and waste piles. The proposal also includes the opening of roads and transmission lines.
According to Luiz, the intention of Thames is to explore 30 million tons of iron ore in two phases. In the first, the company intends to explore for four years, 1 million tons per year. Then, there would be an expansion of the complex with the exploration of 3 million tons of iron ore per year for nine years. In this second phase, the company would need “containment dykes”, which, for Luiz, can be interpreted as tailings dams.
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In Serra do Curral, in addition to this project, two others threaten the region. One of them is from Fleurs Global Mineração and the other is the project by the Pau Branco Mining Company (Empabra), which was investigated in 2019 by the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission in the Municipality of Belo Horizonte, led by then councilor Gilson Reis (PCdoB).
A petition in defense of Serra do Curral is open and can be accessed at this link and another by the state registration, available at this link. Together, they already have almost 100,000 subscriptions.
Source: BoF Minas Gerais
Edition: Rafaella Dotta