From Nova Almeida to Conceição da Barra: Court decision recognizes areas affected in the state of Espírito Santo by the collapse of the Fundão Dam
The decision represents an important victory for the affected population.
On August 10, 2023, the judge in the Rio Doce case, Vinicius Cobucci, decided to recognize the weight of the decisions of the Inter-Federative Committee (CIF) regarding the areas considered affected. By recognizing the validity of a specific decision by the CIF, the decision indicates that communities located between the district of Nova Almeida (Serra/ES) and the municipality of Conceição da Barra should be included as affected parties in the Rio Doce Case. They are: Urussuquara, Campo Grande, Barra Nova Sul, Barra Nova Norte, Nativo, Fazenda Ponta, São Miguel, Gameleira e Ferrugem, in the municipality of São Mateus; Pontal do Ipiranga, Barra Seca, Regência, Povoação and Degredo, in the municipality of Linhares; Portal de Santa Cruz, Itaparica, Santa Cruz, Mar Azul, Vila do Riacho, Rio Preto a Barra do Sahy and Barra do Riacho, in the municipality of Aracruz; and Nova Almeida, in the municipality of Serra. Although these communities and districts have been expressly mentioned, recognition as affected can refer to the entire area between Nova Almeida and Conceição da Barra.
The recognition of estuarine, coastal and marine communities in Espírito Santo had been granted by the CIF in March 2017, through Deliberation no. 58. On that occasion, the CIF ordered the Renova Foundation to start, within 30 days of that decision, the Survey and Registration Program for those Impacted, in order to assess the socio-economic impacts of the disaster in those areas.
The CIF’s decision to determine the possibility of including the communities in Renova’s Programs was based on a technical note presented by the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), a public agency linked to the Ministry of the Environment, which identified that the area covered by the disaster went far beyond the Rio Doce channel. The study also pointed out that other areas could still be identified in future monitoring.
Against the CIF’s decision, Vale, Samarco and BHP Billiton went to court, claiming that Deliberation n. 58 was illegal because it was not based on sufficient evidence that the area had been affected. The companies contested the technique used by ICMBio and presented studies by the consultancy TETRA+, hired by the Renova Foundation to counter the CIF’s decision. The companies also claimed that the deliberations did not necessarily represent the correct interpretation of the obligations to repair the damage caused by the dam collapse.
But in August 2023, Judge Vinicius Cobucci pointed out that the CIF consists of what he calls a “Forum that expresses the political options of the Union and the states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo, with the participation of civil society” and re-establishes it as the legitimate decision-making body for reparations. This is because it is the body responsible for ensuring that private interests do not override public interests. This is why the Committee has powers that put it on a higher level than the parties when it comes to discussing issues relating to reparations.
In an excerpt from the decision, the judge expressly states that “It is evident that the direction and final word in the conduct of the reparation rests with the public administration.” In order to challenge the CIF’s deliberations, companies must demonstrate serious flaws or violations of the agreements signed. If there is any doubt about the interpretation, the judge indicates that he will opt for precaution and the protection of nature.
This decision can still be appealed to the Federal Regional Court of the 6th Region and the technical advisory services of those affected will follow the progress of the process in order to fulfill its role of informing the population.
The affected population’s battle for recognition of these communities has been going on for almost eight years. According to Deliberation no. 58 and the judge’s decision, other areas may be recognized, hence the importance of the organization, participation and search for rights of the people affected, who now also have the support of their technical advisors.
More information and access to resolution no. 58/2017 of the CIF: cif-2017-03-31-deliberacao_58.PDF (ibama.gov.br)