Analysis published by the Center for Defense Investment (RKIK), of the five viable areas in the vicinity of the South Estonian town of Võru examined for a proposed Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) military training area, Nursipalu is the only one that meets all requirements.
Nursipalu is already home to an EDF training area, but its projected tripling in size, to 9,000ha, has caused consternation with local residents over the impact it will have on their quality of life, the fact that over 20 households will have to relocate to make way for the extension, and the issue of living in the vicinity of a major, sensitive military zone.
The RKIK stated that: "Taking into account the requirements of national defense and the criteria presented in the analysis, the only realistic option in South-East Estonia is to develop the Nursipalu training ground."
The other areas examined were: Orava, Võru County, Karula, Võru County, Ahja, Põlva County, and Soontaga, Valga County.
The location of the site in the area between Väike-Emajõki and Emajõgi in South-East Estonia and no further than 50 kilometers from the Taara township of the defense forces in Võru was considered as the criteria for choosing the location.
The criteria used included a location in the zone delineated by the Väike-Emajõgi and Emajõgi rivers, one which was no further than 50km from the Estonian Defense Forces' (EDF) Taara barracks (see image below).
While Soontaga galls slightly outside this zone, it was included in the selection process, mainly because the land predominantly belongs to the state, already.
Other criteria used included pre-existing nature conservation restrictions, an area which could accommodate a training zone approximately 10,000ha in sizes, access from at least four different directions, and a rail link nearby.
General accessibility, an absence of nearby major infrastructure links such as power lines, communications links and gas pipelines were also taken into consideration, in addition to the situation with privately-owned buildings and settlements.
Karula and Soontaga were already ruled out, on the grounds of nature conservation restrictions, the RKIK report states.
The area around Ahja is criss-crossed by major roads and a gas pipeline, and also includes a large proportion of private land.
Orava was off the table, also for nature restriction reasons, as well as insufficient access, which would lead to restrictions on maneuvers during exercises (which, for instance, should be able to be held starting at more than one side of the training zone, and converging in the middle).
Nursipalu was also more favorable to the RKIK, in comparison with Orava, in that there are fewer privately-owned cadastral units, residential and public buildings.
The Orava zone contains 2,605 ha under private ownership with 337 cadastral units, 85 of which contain residential or communal buildings (such as farm outhouses).
For Nursipalu, the figures are 1,756ha, 217 cadastral units, 85 with residential or communally-used buildings.
The analysis summary reiterates this: "The decisive criteria for the aforementioned location options are: A large proportion of state lands and nature conservation conditions - which allow the area to be developed in such a way that the largest possible area can be utilized for training... An important nuance is also the number of private properties and residences within the potential training area. By expanding the Nursipalu training area, there are 21 privately owned cadastral units with residential and public buildings, [compared with] 85 in the Orava region. In addition, the proportion of nature conservation restrictions is significantly higher in the Orava area."
The RKIK also stressed that the analysis constitutes neither a plan nor an environmental impact assessment, but simply analysis whose results will be used in planning future activities at the proposed training ground. The areas of the planned zone shown in the analysis are approximate, the RKIK says, while the specific boundaries will be set in the course of forthcoming work.
The existing Nursipalu training area of around 3,000ha would, under the proposed plans, be tripled in size, in order to bring training options available to the EDF's 2nd Infantry Brigade (South Estonia) in line with those of the 1st Brigade (North), and potentially to accommodate NATO allied forces as well.
The issue has even drawn comment from the head of state, who noted local residents' concerns, but also pointed to the preeminence of national security, in the current situation.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots