Finance Ministry considering updating Pärnu County Rail Baltic plan ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Rail Baltic artist render.
Rail Baltic artist render. Source: RB Rail

Pursuant to Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling regarding the planned Rail Baltic track, the Ministry of Finance, in cooperation with other ministries, is considering as its first step the updating of the Pärnu County plan, within which an appropriate impact assessment will be carried out for the construction of the Rail Baltic route in the Luitemaa Natura area.

"With such large infrastructure projects and a large-scale planning process, various parties can unfortunately also make mistakes," said Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center), commenting on the top court's ruling.

The Supreme Court found an error in the assessment of the effects on protected natural values in Luitemaa Nature Reserve in Pärnu County. Due to the error, the Supreme Court revoked the county plan in the area between Pärnu and the Estonian-Latvian border in the extent of 40 kilometers.

Within the framework of the strategic environmental impact assessment of Rail Baltic's Pärnu County plan, no appropriate Natura assessment was performed in this area. Based on the preliminary assessment, environmental experts found that there would be no direct significant negative impact on the protected values in the Luitemaa bird sanctuary. Thus, it was found that no corresponding Natura assessment was required.

In August 2017, the Ministry of the Environment approved the impact assessment of the county plan, based, among other things, on practice thus far in assessing the impact of county plans. However, the court did not consider such an assessment to be sufficient to rule out an impact on the Natura site in question. The scope of the assessment originates, among other things, from the rulings of the European Court of Justice, to which the Supreme Court also referred.

The plan was established by the minister of public administration in April 2018, based on both the assessment of environmental experts and the approval given by the Ministry of the Environment. The entire previous process was led by the county government, whose powers were transferred to the Ministry of Finance on January 1, 2018.

"I consider the rapid implementation of an infrastructure project that is a matter of priority for Estonia to be very important," Aab said. "The Ministry of Finance will make every effort to ensure that Rail Baltic's location decision is legally correct even along the revoked 40 kilometers, and will conduct the necessary procedures to eliminate the error."

The Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications are currently considering the updating of the county planning procedure in order to carry out an appropriate Natura assessment. This was also recommended by the Supreme Court. The time required to update the plan depends on the exact steps required to be repeated.

Six challenges were submitted to the court regarding the county plans, all of which have been handled by now. With the exception of the Natura assessment of Luitemaa bird sanctuary, it has been confirmed as a result of court disputes that the plan has been drawn up in consideration of all rules.

Both the ruling of the Supreme Court and the previous lower court rulings confirmed that the Rail Baltic county plans of Harju, Rapla and Pärnu Counties are otherwise legally legitimate. In Harju and Rapla Counties, as well as largely in Pärnu County, the ongoing activities for the implementation of the project, led by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and Rail Baltic Estonia, will continue.

According to the Ministry of Finance, it is no longer appropriate to once again raise the issue of Tartu, on which fundamental choices were made years ago, at the current stage. Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling has created a certainty that if the error arising from the Natura assessment in Pärnu County is eliminated, it will be possible to continue the project along the entire planned route.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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