Nursipalu property owner: Military training area expansion process 'murky'

EDF troops training at Nursipalu.
EDF troops training at Nursipalu. Source: mil.ee

Procedures surrounding the tripling in size of a South Estonian military training area have been shrouded in confusion from the outset, some local residents affected by the development say.

One homeowner, Carolina Pihelgas, told ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade" Thursday that it currently was not clear if properties located just outside the training area, once extended, will be compensated for.

"It's all still pretty murky," Pihelgas, who bought a summer home in the area in spring this year, told "Ringvaade".

"Plus the process has been murky for people from the very beginning," she went on.

Pihelgas told "Ringvaade" presenter Anna Pihl that she had no idea at the time she bought the property, in the village of Luhametsa, that the nearby military zone would be extended virtually to her doorstep.

"I knew that the exercise field was four or five kilometers away, as the crow flies. But now the circumstances are different; when I bought a country home in the spring, it was to be able to do creative work there in peace and quiet, and I had no idea that things would take such a turn," she said.

Some houses in Luhametsa village, generally excluded from the training zone after its dimensions were revised downward slightly from those requested by the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), remain inside the training area. "I'm right on the boundary, just barely outside. I don't know whether to laugh or cry, because according to the initial information, it would have been inside the practice field but now the borders have been changed a bit. It's still been a very uncertain thing, however, and we don't know if the borders will continue as they are."

Elari Kalmaru, the portfolio manager at the Center for Defense Investment (RKK), told "Ringvaade" that those owners whose property, like Pihelgas', lies just outside the training area, should also contact the RKK.

Kalmaru said: "If necessary, we will also start negotiations with them, and I believe that this person (Carolina Pihelgas - ed.) has already contacted us, so we will definitely start communicating with her and explain what fears she specifically has, and then move on. We'll see what can be done."

EDF training department chief Capt. Annes Vainamäe told "Ringvaade" that the expansion was only talked about in more concrete terms following the NATO Madrid Summit in late June, after which it became clear that Estonia must both boost its own combat capabilities and become better prepared to host NATO allies, who will also be providing more personnel and materiel, in many cases.

The EDF on its own had been making do with very cramped conditions so far as training went for a long time; the current, changed security situation means more training space is needed.

Vainamäe said: "When the allies had so far said that we would like to come and carry out a larger exercise, we have had to say that it is not possible, as our current training facilities do not permit it."

"The EDF has developed, and relating to the war in Ukraine, there has been a fundamental leap in development; we have accelerated our procurement and the current as of now, we see that we simply do not have the space. In order for the Estonian state to be protected, we need to get more land. Nursipalu is currently the place that has come out in the analysis."

Compensatoin will be granted to those owners whose homes and properties lie inside the training are, for instance via a scheme where an independent evaluator produces a figure, to which 20 percent is added as an "incentive fee", or 30 percent if the property is inhabited full-time.

An exchange of property inside the training area for property, currently owned by the state, outside the zone, was also viable, Elari Kalmaru said.

What happens in the event of refusal was not reported.

Pihelgas, whose property will not be directly eligible for compensation on the above lines, as things stand, told "Ringvaade" she was not sure what she would do with the house yet.

Mayor of the nearby Rõuge Municipality, Britt Vahter, said earlier this week that the type of equipment to be used, including MLRS, will likely bring noise pollution affecting areas outside the actual training zone.

The existing Nursipalu training area is around 3,000ha in area, to be expanded to around three times that size under the new plans.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Ringvaade

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