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Savannah may seek a compulsory purchase of land for its Portuguese lithium project

LISBON – London-based Savannah Resources will, if necessary, ask the Portuguese government for permission to compulsorily purchase land for planned lithium mines in the north of the country, its director general Emanuel Proenca he said, adding that he preferred “friendly arrangements.”

The company requires approximately 840 hectares for its four-mine project in the Barroso region, but as of September 2023, it had acquired or was in the process of acquiring only 93 hectares.

Savannah has faced strong opposition to the project from local residents and environmentalists, through protests, legal complaints, or simply refusing to sell the land. Private owners own about 24% of the land needed, while 75% is traditional “baldios”, or common land.

On Wednesday, Proenca said during an investor presentation that Savannah has acquired more than 100 parcels so far, although it is unclear how many hectares.

The director general said that Portuguese legislation allows for other solutions regarding “access to land and compulsory land acquisition.”

“We are, of course, aware of these solutions and eventually the moment will come when we will implement them… That moment has not come yet, which is why we continue to favor friendly takeovers and friendly transactions,” Proenca said, adding that relations with the local community have improved.

The company aims to start production in 2026, extracting enough lithium each year to power about half a million batteries used in electric vehicles.

The government could authorize compulsory purchase in the public interest.

With known reserves of 60,000 tonnes, Portugal is already Europe’s largest producer of lithium for the ceramics industry. The Barroso region, a Food and Agriculture Organization cultural heritage site, contains one of the richest deposits of lithium.

Proenca said the land the company needed was mostly “industrial pine forest” and added: “We don’t affect any house, we don’t have to move a single person.”

In February, prosecutors asked a judge to invalidate the project’s environmental permit, alleging violations of the law and citing the risk that the mine could threaten a cultural heritage site.

Savannah then cited her lawyers’ advice that the “lawsuit was without merit” and did not expect any impact on her business.