Minister calls for island shoreline building ban zone to mirror mainland's

Saaremaa shoreline.
Saaremaa shoreline. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

Environment Minister Madis Kallas (Reform) has proposed the government align the shoreline construction zone ban on Estonia's islands with that of the mainland.

This would require amendments to the Nature Conservation Act, he said; at present, whereas construction is banned within 100m of the shoreline on mainland Estonia, the zone is double that distance on the islands.

Kallas also notes that with a general election looming in three months' time, with the Christmas recess in between, legislative amendments are unlikely to go through on his watch in any case.

Kallas said: "The currently valid law does not treat the Estonian islands on an equal footing with the remainder of the coastal areas of mainland Estonia."

"Whereas on the mainland there is a construction ban zone of 100m [from the shoreline] along the coast, on the islands the zone is 200m."

"This (reducing the ban to 100m - ed.) would be a very fundamental and major change, one which would definitely require prior discussion with both communities and environmental protection organizations," the minister continued.

In some cases, the no-build zone could extend even further inland than 200m, he added.

"There could be some flexibility in the system, so that in justified cases it could be less than 200 meters," Kallas said

Under current law, exemptions can be obtained by applying to the Environmental Board (Keskkonnaamet) for a decision – a decision which the board's head, Rainer Vakra, says it does not take lightly.

Retaining a green corridor buffer zone helps to prevent damage to the coastline and its eco-system, Vakra said, agreeing with Kallas that reducing the zone to 100m would be a radical step.

The move would require thorough analysis and any legislative change would need to be processed at the Riigikogu, while: "The role of the Environmental Board is to implement environmental policy and be responsible for supervision," Vakra said.

Minister Kallas is a former Mayor of Saaremaa, and said that the issue of different treatment on this issue on the islands as compared with the mainland had been an issue for island residents for a long time.

However, Kallas said, with the general election looming in March, he would be unable to move forward with the issue and would have to put it on the back burner – while at the same time initiating discussions on the matter.

Aivar Viidik, Kallas' party mate and a politician on Estonia's second island, Hiiumaa, said that he was already familiar with Kallas' view, adding that a fifth amendment to the existing legislation was not necessary.

"As stated in the cult Estonian film "Siin me oleme", educated people do not build their houses too close to the shoreline, and people on Hiiumaa are educated."

"On Hiiumaa, a new house has been built 38 meters from the shoreline. No loopholes were used, and this has become wholly viable," he continued, referring to the regulations rather than custom.

In fact, on Hiiumaa, building directly adjacent to the sea has historically not been customary."On Hiiumaa, apart from one village on the southern tip at Emmaste, I don't know any beach villages like this, in a general sense."

Last year, the Environmental Board received a total of eight applications to build closer than 200m from the shoreline, which were fully granted in two cases, partly satisfied in four and wholly refused twice.

Over the past five years, the board has carried out around 450 inspections relating to consturction and the protected zone, nationwide, ie. on the mainland and the islands together.

It has also commenced over 70 misdemeanor proceedings and around 50 administrative proceedings as a result of violations of the construction ban zone.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mari Peegel

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