Portuguese community files legal action against lithium mining company

LISBON, July 22 (Reuters) - A community group in a lithium-rich area of northern Portugal said on Friday it had filed a legal suit against a subsidiary of London-based mining company Savannah Resources for alleged encroachment on communal land.

In a statement, a group - the Local Community of Common Land of Covas do Barroso - accused Savannah Resources’ subsidiary Savannah Lithium of alleged “improper appropriation” of land assigned to the community for farming or hunting use near its Mina do Barroso project 145 km northeast of the city of Porto.

Savannah Resources did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.

Portugal is Europe’s biggest lithium producer but its miners sell almost exclusively to the ceramics industry and are only now preparing to produce the higher-grade lithium that is in demand globally for use in electric cars and electronic devices.

The southern European nation, which has 60,000 tonnes of known lithium reserves, is central to Europe’s bid to secure more of the battery value chain and cut reliance on imports.

But projects in Portugal, such as Savannah’s, face strong opposition from environmentalists and local communities who are demanding stronger regulation and more transparency.

Much of the land thought to contain lithium in Portugal is classified as common land whose use is determined by local associations.

The Barroso community group claims Savannah Lithium, which already mines feldspar, quartz and pegmatite in the area, broke the law by buying land based on topographical surveys it ordered that “in no way correspond to well-known (common land) limits established generations ago”.

“We were forced to resort to legal action when faced with (land purchase) deals based on records that ... do not correspond to the truth,” it said, calling for those purchases to be declared annulled and void.

Savannah submitted an environmental impact assessment for an open-pit mine to Portuguese regulator APA in May 2020 and received preliminary approval a year later but said last month a “political process” was delaying its plans.

Earlier this month, Savannah’s chief executive David Archer stepped down on the same day APA told the company to complete an additional environmental licensing process for Barroso. (Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Aislinn Laing and David Evans)