A bill which would slash water body shoreline protected zones to 20 meters was signed by the new environment minister a week-and-a-half before taking office. The legal amendment, if it were to pass, would particularly affect Estonia's islands, where protected zones are 200 meters from the shore. Proponents of the bill say the current legislation is out-of-date.
Environment minister Erki Savisaar (Center), appointed to office last week following the sudden resignation of Tõnis Mölder (Center), signed the bill while a Riigikogu MP and in his role as finance committee chair, ERR reports.
This happened 10 days before his appointment as minister.
As Minister for the Environment he now has to give an opinion on the same bill.
"In any case, the ministry is analyzing the issues, and if these have been made clear here inside the house, then an opinion will be formulated," Savisaar told ERR Monday.
While the bill was signed by MPs from four of the five parties in the Riigikogu – Reform, Isamaa and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), in addition to Center - this may not mean that it enters into law, one of the signatories, Heiki Kranich (Reform) said, adding that talks on the ideas which have reached the draft have been going on for some time.
Kranich said: "This bill would not have been presented if any of these parties had opposed it," adding that the main changes relate to local government.
The bill's explanatory memorandum says that: "The aim is to reshape the protection of natural values on the shorelines and on water bodies' shorelines, to alleviate current ownership restrictions and reduce the number and scope of restrictions, but without compromising the protection of important natural values or resources," the draft explains.
While the current protected zone can extend up to 200 meters from a shoreline, the bill would slash this to 20 meters, though local authorities can expand on this mandatory zone if they choose to, ERR reports.
The bill would harmonize the definition of protected zones in general with those abutting on to bodies of water – in addition to the Baltic Sea these comprise the Peipsi järv-Lämmijärv-Pihkva järv lake system.
Remaining lakes and rivers retain a 10-meter protected zone along their banks or shorelines as currently the case.
Savisaar told ERR that the present-day restrictions became law in the mid-1990s, at a time when natural objects which were in need of protection had not yet been mapped.
"Nowadays, I believe we are much smarter and all objects needing protection have received it" said Savisaar.
"Municipalities have also become more capable, smarter, more environmentally conscious, and such a blanket protection or restriction no longer seems appropriate," he went on.
Kranich said that: "In those places where there is no justification for this, neither a nature protection object nor a water protection zone, for example on Saaremaa, to maintain a 200-meter construction prohibition zone – what is the point?" adding that local government should play a much bigger role in allowing and prohibiting construction work and make its own decisions where necessary.
Currently, the protected zone extends 200 meters from the sea on the islands, 100 meters along sea coasts on the mainland, and also along the major lakes noted above, and 50 meters in more densely-populated areas.
The bill was signed by Andres Metsoja (Isamaa) and Peeter Ernits (EKRE), in addition to Savisaar and Kranich, on November 8.
While the Ministry of the Environment and its accompanying minister may conjure up images of purely green politics, the ministry is particularly key in the doling out of contracts to businesses involved in renewables, energy in general, forestry and other aspects of Estonia's natural environment and its exploitation.
Savisaar took office on November 18, a day after Tõnis Mölder officially announced his resignation, citing personal issues.
Editor: Andrew Whyte