One of the objectives of Inelfe, in both the project’s design and construction phases, was to minimize the interconnection’s impact on the surrounding environment. The first measure, though very costly, required that the line be buried and a tunnel excavated through the Pyrenees Mountains in order to preserve the forested slopes of the Alberas massif.
Between the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2010, the project was subject to public debate and a consensus process in France. RTE brought together the region’s mayors, landowners and associations in order to provide them with information about the interconnection, seek their advice and come to a consensual agreement as to what route it would take. The process was carried out in two phases. The first phase addressed aspects related to the direct current, magnetic fields, the underground line and the environment. The second phase was organized around four workshops aimed at analyzing all the terrain features in order to determine the definitive route for the line. In agreement with the various administrations and the citizens themselves, RTE committed itself to 190 preventive and corrective measures and actions aimed at reducing the route’s environmental impact. This includes respecting the areas protected by the Natura 2000 network, abiding by the Water Framework Directive and acting to preserve the habitat of protected species.
At the end of 2010 in Spain, the project obtained the Environmental Impact Statement, a mandatory report from Spain’s Ministry of the Environment ensuring that all environmental requirements have been met. In addition, a consensus was reached with the mayors of the affected municipalities regarding the project, with 97% of the landowners’ expressing their consent.
When defining the interconnection’s route, the designers tried to take maximum advantage of pre-existing infrastructures such as the high-speed railway and highways. And very importantly, the design showed special care not to affect indigenous forest areas or places of public interest (streams, easements) and to respect the biological sanctuaries of the nutria, lesser kestrel and Hermann’s tortoise.
Hydrogeological monitoring of groundwater as well as surface water was performed in order to make sure that the Alberas massif’s water resources are specifically monitored and that the modern drilling techniques used to pass under the principal rivers did not affect their flow volume or water quality. Drilling below the Tech River was particularly complex. Inelfe, in accordance with its commitment to respect the habitats of both the flora and fauna, recreated the living environments of certain animals such as the Spanish pond turtle since the interconnection’s route passes over their long-established territories. An artificial lake was also created for the Hermann’s tortoise, and some specimens have been tagged in order to track their progress within their new habitat.
With such large-scale construction work, generating excavation materials and debris was inevitable. Inelfe found it indispensable at all times to reuse these materials and debris to restore the landscape and its existing paths and roads. And so they did. For example, the vegetation removed during the construction of the converter station in Santa Llogaia was used to restore the area around the tunnel’s entrance. And the vast majority of the materials left over (120,000 m3) from boring the tunnel was used for the A-9 highway extension project in France.
Committed and concerns hiring local
INELFE gave top priority to local companies for ancillary work on the site, nearly always in collaboration with the region’s municipal governments, such as Rosellón and Girona. At least 95 jobs were created in the south of France thanks to the 37.8 million euros earmarked for the small businesses associated with the project. A similar number of jobs were also created in Spain. When hiring directly, social groups with professional insertion difficulties were taken into account. On the Spanish side, for example, all the ancillary installations inside the tunnel were carried out by companies working in conjunction with the Associacíon de Disminuidos Psiquicos (association for the intellectually disabled), which demonstrates how the investment made in the region with the construction work also contributed to its development.