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Since the ancient Romans the northern mountains of Spain highlighted to have a specific favorable qualities for mining operations. Within these holdings include the open air quarries, especially those dedicated to the extraction of limestone a cause of the karst orogeny of the mountains from Galicia to Navarra.

In this way, we can find the quarry “Navarra Pequeña”, located in the foothills of the Sierra Brava Badaia in Nanclares de la Oca (population of 2,500 inhabitants INE 2014 in the municipality of Iruña de Oca, near Vitoria, Álava).

This arid limestone quarry started its activity in 1976 by a local merchant (although the quarry was taken over by other larger company later). For many years it has been one of the most important economic engines in the region, making it the most productive limestone quarry of the three who are still active in the province of Alava. However, in 2010, this quarry was a source of dispute between several local actors asking for attention of regional media.

[FOTO 1] Arid limestone quarry “Navarra Pequeña” (Nanclares de la Oca)

The debate was not about the actual “Navarra Pequeña”, it was about a future 805,000 m2 enlargement (nearly three times the current operating quarry). The company in charge of the quarry asked the council for a change in the General Plan to reclassify the land from protected forest area to mining soil.

At first, the council of Iruña de Oca agreed with the proposal of the company and were able to draft a project for how the enlargement would be. However, company´s intentions found a very strong opposition in most neighborhoods of Nanclares and Ollávarre (adjacent to the previous) and in environmental associations too.

The arguments of those who were reluctant to the project were based on the severe environmental impact of a farm like this, despite being restoration plans involving the revegetation of the areas where extraction is completed (which are running in today’s “Navarra Pequeña”). Complaints from neighbors came at the rate of the possible effects on themselves, while the ecologists groups had more to do with the impact on the environment. Against the new quarry it was argued that:

·         The future location would be too close (less than 500 meters) to the village of Ollávarre, with all that this would harm its inhabitants: noise, shaking, dust, damage in their homes … If the present quarry´s place produces cracks in the neighbor´s houses due to blasting, it would expect an increase of these problems with the new enlargement. In addition, due to the situation of high-voltage, we would have to move the electric power line closer to the village.

·         When digging a lot of ground, it can disturb the course of underground rivers, affecting the hydrological dynamics of the basin, drying up springs and modifying the groundwater level of the place. The nearby Subijana´s aquifer (the most important of Euskal Herria, which supplies Nanclares and can do so Vitoria in case of emergency), which could be affected in both the quality and quantity of its water.

·         Moving huge amounts of stone alters the biological cycles of habitats, modifies the terrain and runoff and changes channels.

·         The extension attacks the vegetation of the Sierra Brava Badaia, with oaks, pines, maples and other plants like lavender, thyme or Narcissus minor (special interest).

·         In addition to reducing the area of habitat for native wildlife (deer, wild boar, wood pigeon, partridge, diversity of amphibians …), the quarry makes noise that may seriously disturb them.

·         It would produce economic benefits for a limited period of time while it would ruin the landscape and produce irreversible damage in the environment.

Nevertheless, such an aggressive human activity with the environment, as it is an open air quarry, may be favorable for the proliferation of other living beings. Like the case of cliff-nesting birds, which are protected, require cuts, such as those produced by the quarries, where they can reproduce. This fact is still in an anecdotal level compared to what has previously been exposed.

At the end, the council rejected the project of the company, which can be interpreted as a victory for local mobilization against the economic interests of an industry that generates huge profits (especially dedicated to the extraction of limestone aggregates, used in the manufacture of concrete). This episode would certify the growing environmental awareness of basque society which holds powerful campaigns against hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and nuclear energy at present.


Íñigo Uraga Palacio

E.T.S.I. Caminos Canales y Puertos


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