Supreme Court Justice Ivo Pilving said that the Estonian government will have the opportunity to endorse the Pärnu County Plan for sections 3A, 4A and 4H of the track of Rail Baltic as a political decision even if it appears from a Natura assessment that the railway may undermine the integrity of the Luitemaa bird area.
The Supreme Court said on Tuesday that it has partially granted an appeal by the environmental associations Avalikult Rail Balticust (ARB) and Eesti Looduskaitse Selts (Estonian Society for Nature Conservation) and revoked the Pärnu County Plan for sections 3A, 4A and 4H of the track of Rail Baltic. The county plans for Harju and Rapla counties remain in force.
According to the administrative chamber of the Supreme Court, the minister of public administration endorsed the Pärnu County Plan in violation of the law, as the impact to be exerted by Rail Baltic on the Luitemaa bird sanctuary situated next to the track had not been established.
Pilving said at a press conference on Tuesday that as the preliminary Natura assessment did not rule out a significant impact on the bird area, a thorough Natura assessment should have been carried out as well. The Supreme Court justice added that the planned railway would pass 13 Natura sites and in all other cases an assessment was made. Excluding the Luitemaa bird area, there were no other direct legal errors in the plan.
According to Pilving, the missing assessment can also be made ex post without legal obstacles. Even if it turns out that an adverse effect on bird species cannot be ruled out, the Supreme Court justice said this does not mean that there will be no railway line. Namely, the government may still establish a county plan for overriding and extremely urgent reasons for the public.
Kristjan Kaunissaare, Rail Baltic project coordinator from the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said that a correct assessment document has been drawn up by now that allows the construction of Rail Baltic to go ahead.
Kaunissaare said that some parts of the Pärnu County Plan need to be reviewed and it is possible that the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications will also have to change the order of work as a result of this.
"It was not the substantive issue concerning the Natura site, but the form that was debated in court. The assessment of the Natura 2000 bird area was carried out much more thoroughly than required by law," Kaunissaare told the daily.
"It is unfortunate that the error became clear later and I agree that everything must be correct formally. Today, there is a correct assessment document, solutions have been proposed and all other necessary preconditions have been met, which allows us to proceed without wasting more time and resources," he said. "We do not see any problems at the moment with the changing of the deadlines for establishing Rail Baltic," Kaunissaare added.
Editor: Anders Nõmm