Owners affected by Nursipalu expansion prefer new land to compensation
Many residents whose homes and farms will be requisitioned to make way for an expanded Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) military training area in South Estonia have said they seek land of an equivalent value in lieu, rather than compensation from the state, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal" (AK) reported Sunday.
The development, at the Nursipalu training area in Võru County, is unprecedented in terms of the number of people who will have to leave the land and their properties, which have been in some cases in the family for generations, for a state development.
The issue is complicated by the fact that agricultural land is in short supply in Estonia.
Kaupo Kaasik, infrastructure projects coordinator at the Defense Investment Center (RKK), stressed that the process was only at a very early stage, adding that the alternatives will be a cash compensation, or a replacement with land currently owned by the state.
The area earmarked for the expansion includes several farms actively engaged in working the land, AK reported, adding that and in this complex case, home owners would opt for replacement, equivalent agricultural land, rather than a financial settlement.
Twenty-one residential buildings, ie. homes, are to be requisitioned as a result of the expansion – roughly a tripling in size of the existing Nursipalu training area used by the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) (see map below).
One of these, in the village of Tsirgupalu, in Rõuge Rural Municipality, is owned by Tarvu Tuusis, and has been in the family for several generations – he inherited the 60ha farm from his grandfather, he told AK, and has around 100 head of cattle.
Tuusis told AK that one of his three sons has: "Also became a young farmer, graduating from Olustvere [School of Service and Rural Economics], and he also wants to continue the path of a farmer."
"The buildings here have all been updated, and everything is brand new," Tuusis added, noting that he can't imagine having to up sticks and leave.
Another local landowner is Uno Allas, who told AK that he would only leave if he were able to exchange his land on a like-for-like basis.
"And not something like a handful of alder leaves that won't be worth anything a year from now. What would I do with that?" Allas went on, adding that he did not want monetary compensation.
Allas came to live in Lükkä village, which lies right in the middle of the proposed expansion, 25 years ago
Tarvi Tuus was of the same mind – the compensation likely, he said, would not buy anything suitable and would only stretch to an old building and around a hectare's land.
Peeter Kivioja, another farmer, in the village of Nilbõ, said the same, adding that he hasn't seen anywhere where he might be able to obtain 60ha as he owns now.
Kivioja told AK he will be able to retain the farmhouse, but without the land, it would not be a place he could call home. "It is not home; the house remains. Home is peace, home is my workplace, home is family," he explained.
Part of the issue relates to the shortage of arable and open farmland in Estonia, as compared with forest.
Of the 109,000ha or so of agricultural land, much of it (over 88,00ha) is covered by lease agreements nationwide – ie. is already owned.
In Põlva and Võru counties, the region where Nursipalu is located, 6,045ha of commercial agricultural land is already under ownership, out of a total of a little under 8,000ha.
Kaupo Kaasik at the RKK conceded that finding replacement land would be difficult for the state, while at the same time, many of the farmers remain unconvinced about the defense ministry's promises, having been let down in the past, Tarvi Tuusis said.
"We were promised money for windows, insulation and heating for people close to here. Nobody even came to the village to ask how life is going now," he said, referring to an earlier support measure.
Kaasik also urged caution over the converse situation, ie. a rushed sale, saying that there have been instances of people hurrying to sell their land to, for instance, a forestry company at below market price, while the latter then resells to the state, this time at market price.
The planned 9,882ha enlarged training area will accommodate NATO allies and their equipment, including potentially heavy tanks and MLRS systems, as well as the EDF.
The area is somewhat smaller than that originally requested by the Ministry of Defense.
There are over 200 units of land in private ownership in the area earmarked, along with 21 homes, mostly farmsteads, which in some cases may see the building itself lie outside the training area and left standing, but land falling inside its limits.
Landowners affected by the expansion, some of whom have described the process so far as "murky", have been receiving notification that their property is of "interest to the state" following a town-hall meeting which Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur (Reform) took party at the Tsooru community center in Antsla Rural Municipality a week ago.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael
Source: Aktuaalne kaamera