Just over 20 properties which include residential buildings remain in the "area of interest" of a planned expansion to an existing military training area in South Estonia.
Local residents have largely been in the dark about what will happen to their properties, many of which have been in the family for generations but will need to be the subject of forced sales to accommodate the expanded area.
The enlarged training zone, at Nursipalu, Võru County, will likely host exercises conducted by British, French, Danish and other NATO allied forces, as well as those of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF).
However, a meeting involving Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) on Monday shed light on whose properties would be affected and what steps will need to be taken, including the provision of compensation, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Monday.
The enlargement affects Antsla and Rõuge rural municipalities, and to a lesser extent Võru Rural Municipality, all in Võru County.
The main options open to landowners comprise either sale or an exchanged for currently state-owned land, Kaupo Kaasik, infrastructure projects coordinator at the Defense Investment Center (RKK), told AK.
He said: "The main options are cash sales, or exchange for state land. The state will not retain any agricultural and buildings for itself," adding that providing compensation was the most complicated aspect and that "lengthy negotiations" to find suitable solutions are likely.
The area of interest to the state comprises about 200 units of land, Kaasik added, saying: "Of these, 21 which lie within the current border contain a residential building(s)."
Monday's meeting at the Tsooru community center in Antsla Rural Municipality involved representatives of all three affected municipalities along with local residents.
Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) confirmed that the existing training area, which is around 3,000ha in area, will be more than tripled in size, to over 9,000ha – a figure which somewhat lower than the rumored 10,000-12,000ha which had been reportedly circulating, though not sourced, through the autumn.
Mayor of Rõuge Municipality Britt Vahter (Loome Koos electoral alliance) told AK that local residents in her area expect fair compensation for having to give up their properties.
Vahter said: "We want the compensation to those people who will have to lose their homes to be very well thought out, in cooperation with residents, weighed up in all aspects, and resulting in fair levels of recompense."
"How can you put a price on family roots, history and memories, as well as plans for the future?" she went on.
"Many farmers remain in our region, who have fields rented there, will also lose their livelihoods. They lose their communities, too, because living in a scattered settlement is quite a different thing. You get used to delivering in cooperation within your community, with planned places for schools and kindergartens."
One local resident, Henri Otsing, told AK that: "Before this [meeting] we, the local residents, had only picked things up from the media. Today represented first meeting with the ministry, where it was in a position to project the completed plan on screen."
Another local landowner, Karin, said that a fait accompli had been concluded. "It is clear that this has already been decided upon. We, the ordinary people, have no say here."
"We found out that the letters will be in the mail tomorrow. /.../ It gives you the feeling that, while there was once a time when people were encouraged to live in the countryside, now we certainly have to leave the land."
Kaupo Kaasik also told AK that in the case of forested land, values will be calculated based on potential income and how much forest is being grown, while open, agricultural land will receive a valuation from a professional appraiser.
Land market values often do not reflect the real value of rural land, he added, for instance in the case of improvements the owner has made, and this would be incorporated into the compensation, Kaasik said.
A 20 percent "incentive" fee will be added to the final, appraised value, regardless of land use (ie. fields, forest, buildings etc.) while an extra 10 percent will be added to land on which owner-occupied buildings are located.
Minister Pevkur called the expansion "unavoidable", adding that the final land area his ministry approved last Friday is smaller than that originally recommended by the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF); for instance, the village of Luhametsa has been excluded from the zone, he said.
"We really hope that we will be able to reach an agreement... We must be honest, open and empathetic," Pevkur went on, adding rather cryptically that " Past practice shows that in one case, no agreement was reached."
The next step will see property owners notified today, Tuesday, by email and/or the post, after which they will be contacted in order to set up the initial communications on the project.
Properties immediately adjacent to the planned, expanded training area may also be sold to the state given that some of the military equipment likely to be used, including the EDF's own K9 Thunder self-propelled artillery, and allied Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS).
Rõuge mayor: Some people may leave due to noise pollution
Britt Vahter also told agricultural weekly Maaleht (link in Estonian) that Monday's meeting had been successful.
The training area will certainly bring more noise pollution for the local residents, some of whom will leave the area as a result, she said, adding that the area is nonetheless sparsely populated, and the impact on the service sector will not be great.
It may in future prove more difficult to sell the municipality to the public as a viable place to live, Vahter added.
Pevkur had said early last week that the work would have to go through as priority, given the current international security situation; RKK Director Magnus-Valdemar Saar recently said that the expansion may nonetheless take several years, and the type of weaponry the training area would be able to accommodate would also hinge partly on how the negotiations went.
The training area may be used also for heavy armor such as main battle tanks which have been used by all three of Estonia's key NATO allies in the Tapa-based enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup.
This piece was updated to include comments made by Britt Vahter, to Maaleht.
Editor: Andrew Whyte
Source: Aktuaalne kaamera