Pressure and interest in new quarrying work in Kohila Rural Municipality, Rapla County, has grown rapidly in line with the ongoing construction work for the high-speed Rail Baltica link.
Aggregate and other materials are needed for embankments and other features along the planned route, whose first section will be built in Kohila.
The areas around the villages of Pihali, Urge and Loone (see map above) are of particular interest to developers, and local residents find themselves facing the pressure of potential quarrying or mining as a result.
Heiki Hepner, (Isamaa), Kohila Rural Municipality chair, called this pressure "disproportion", in relation to Kohila, adding that attention was had already been drawn to the possibility of quarrying in the area when there was a Rail Baltica county plan was first drawn up.
Hepner said: "At that time, the issue was pushed off the table shortly after being raised. Now, a series of applications have reached the council, initially aimed at conducting studies, but the desire to move forward after that with a quarrying application is obvious," calling this situation "worrying".
Loyal residents have not been sufficiently involved yet, he added, noting that quarrying gets a "bye" in the legislation compared with some other activities.
He said: "Quarrying is one of the very few activities that does not have to be reflected in a municipality's general plan.
"In fact, it should be resolved in the municipality's general plan, where the community meets and also agrees on mitigation measures if it is decided that they agree with the quarry's going ahead."
"We perfectly understand that to get mineral resources, it is also necessary to quarry and mine, but this cannot be done by simply sticking a shovel in the ground in any old place and saying 'I want to build a quarry here'."
Raido Kivikangur, technical manager of Rail Baltic Estonia, which oversees the Estonian section of the planned link, said that the construction procurement is largely aimed at road builders, along with the railway embankment, traffic junctions, wildlife crossings, retaining walls and noise barriers, which all need to be installed also.
Kivikangur added that the environmental impact of Rail Baltica has been assessed, the construction project has been completed and land has been acquired for another railway section, which is awaiting the announcement of the construction tender.
Rail Baltic Estonia announced the first tender for the construction of a new railway embankment on a 9.4km long section, from the Harju/Rapla county line, north of Kohila, to Sihi tee, just to the south.
Bids for this tender are expected until March 9; the cost of the work is an estimated €72 million and work is scheduled to start after a year.
The National Audit Office recently found that an "acute" minerals shortage is imminent, if not only Rail Baltica work is to go ahead, but also work on Estonia's long-planned four-lane highways.
The needs are mostly for sand and gravel, and limestone, Auditor General Janar Holm said.
Better cooperation between the relevant ministries, namely the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the Ministry of the Environment, as well as local governments hosting any new mines or quarries which could be offered mining rights fees.
The government should also weigh offering compensation to local residents affected by the work.
The Rail Baltica link had originally been planned for 2026, and has now been put back to 2030.
When finished it will stretch from Tallinn to the Lithuania/Poland border, with the aim of providing faster links to "continental" Europe through Poland and beyond. Were the Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel ever to go ahead, this would extend this corridor even further northwards.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi