Operators of a hydroelectric power station say that generation could continue legally, adding that an Environmental Board (Keskonnaamet) requirement for them to cease operations given the site is a protected area is not valid. At the same time, the government supports seeking a solution where both environmental and economic concerns might co-exist.
The question relates to new economic activities being pursued that undermine the conservation objectives of the Natura site. Natura is a network of EU environmentally protected sites. However, the Linnamäe plant is not a new activity in this understanding, it is reported.
"The legal assessment ordered from the Sorainen law office indicates that the Environmental Board can, without contravening the law, waive its demand to conduct a Natura site exemption procedure for the Linnamae hydroelectric power station," board member of Wooluvabrik, the company operating the plant, Vahur Kivistik said, according to BNS.
The plant is currently operating on the basis of a court interim measure, while the Environmental Board conducts a Natura site exemption procedure, which would allow the company to continue.
Applicants for such exemptions are obliged to implement compensatory measures, which activity is contingent on.
The Environmental Board says conditions allowing a Salmonidae fish spawning area on the Jägala River in Jõelähtme, east of Tallinn would effectively mean the demolition of the power plant, which itself is included on a list of cultural monuments.
The Linnamäe hydroelectric power plant is not a new project within the meaning of the EU Habitats Directive, as electricity production has been going on unchanged since 2002, several years before the Natura site was created. European Court of Justice practice supports this approach, according to BNS.
"We have asked the Environmental Board what we must do for the exemption to be processed, but have not received a clear response," Kivistik added.
"When it comes to Wooluvabrik, it could mean, for example, the demand to establish [a power plant on] a new river, which is not realistic or feasible for us. Sorainen's assessment affirms our stance that the Environmental Board's demand for passing the Natura exception and compensatory measures process is not lawful," he added.
At a cabinet sitting in mid-October, the government itself green-lighted Wooluvabrik OU additional time for applying for a permit for special use of a waterway. The government found that on the basis of existing information, environmental interests do not outweigh economic and social interests when it comes to the Linnamäe dam.
This means both the Linnamäe reservoir and the related hydroelectric power plant must be preserved. A specific way in which this will be solved is to be determined by the government in January, according to BNS.
Residents of the Joelahtme rural municipality plus the municipality itself, the National Heritage Board (Muinsuskaitseamet), the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications all support this approach, BNS reports.
Wooluvabrik has sent the legal assessment of the Sorainen law office to the rural municipality government of Jõelähtme for inspection and will forward it to the Environmental Board next week, according to BNS.
Editor: Andrew Whyte