Mayor Dreams of Golf Paradise on Naissaar Island ({{commentsTotal}})

Source: Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

A mayor's proposal to build a golf course on Naissaar, an island close to Tallinn, has elicited initial skepticism from environmentalists.

In a press release today, Viimsi Mayor Haldo Oravas, whose municipality administers the island, said Naissaar, with three permanent residents, is empty for most of the year but has potential to draw in more Estonians and tourists from abroad.

Among the ideas for bringing the island to life, Oravas said, were restoring military structures, including a Soviet officers' casino, and building a golf course.

Densely forested, the 18.6-square-kilometer island is 8.5 kilometers from the mainland and has been under environmental protection since 1995, with three official hiking trails. Historically having a Swedish population, Naissaar was closed to the public for 50 years as a Soviet military zone. Today it is home to about 10 summer cottages, and thanks to its proximity to Tallinn is a popular day trip destination in the summertime.

"Unfortunately, the average Estonian doesn't know anything about Naissaar. Estonia, indeed, has 1,521 islands, but most people have only been to two or three, like Saaremaa via Muhumaa or Hiiumaa, or perhaps Vormsi and Kihnu,“ Oravas said. "In recent years, Naissaar has probably received more attention thanks to the Nargen Festival organized by Tõnu Kaljuste. During the festival this past summer, Naissaar turned into a real culture island with a rich program. But with the arrival of fall, the shine of the tourism magnet again dims."

However, a representative of the Estonian Fund for Nature, environmentalist and biologist Riinu Rannap, wasn't thrilled with the golf course idea in particular.

She told the existing golf courses in Estonia have a bad environmental record, often razing the landscape in favor of a replacement surface that is regularly and generously coated with potent fertilizers.

In one case last summer, Rannap said, the Nature Fund had been notified that hundreds of dead frogs had turned up at an Estonian golf course.

"Since frogs' skin is thin, the chemicals had a lethal effect," Rannap said. "If they do it the way they tend to do here, building a golf course on Naissaar would be extremely regrettable."

Still, an environmentally friendly golf course could be an option, she said, pointing to Sweden's Skånes golf course as a positive example. There, the natural surface has been preserved and grass is maintained with intensive mowing, leaving a safe habitat for wildlife.

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