Pevkur: National defense exception still preferable for Nursipalu expansion

Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) standing in front of a RAF CH-47 Chinook helicopter at Ämari Air Base. January 2023.
Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) standing in front of a RAF CH-47 Chinook helicopter at Ämari Air Base. January 2023. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

According to Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform), both the Ministry of Defense and the Estonian Center for Defense Investments (ECDI) would prefer to utilize a national defense exception to expand Nursipalu Training Area, but passing the necessary legislative amendment to do so in the final weeks of the current, XIV Riigikogu isn't realistic.

In order to more quickly expand Nursipalu Training Area, it would likely be necessary to amend the terms for implementing national defense-related derogations, or exceptions, to include not just the buildings already stipulated in the law, but land as well.

The alternative would be implementing a national designated spatial plan, which is a much longer process by several years.

"As the Ministry of Defense and the ECDI's first preference is truly to use the national defense exception to proceed with Nursipalu Training Area, various questions remained within the government regarding the use of the national defense exception, giving rise to the need and desire to specify the law," Pevkur said at a meeting of the Riigikogu's State Budget Control Select Committee on Monday.

Pevkur noted that the land suitable for the expansion of the Southeastern Estonian training grounds was determined last November.

"Establishing the area of interest also provided the framework for where the properties needed by the ECDI are located with whom they have to start negotiations in order to acquire them for the state if possible," he said.

Regardless of the planning format, the next step in legal terms is a government decision.

"First we've wanted to engage and talk with local governments," the minister said. "We also have a court case regarding Soodla Training Area in which the courts ruled that if the government makes a decision to establish a training area, then it has already been established from the moment the government made that decision."

A total of €30 million has been budgeted for the expansion of Nursipalu Training Area this year, which will require an estimated €80 million total in developments in the next few years.

According to ECDI Director General Magnus-Valdemar Saar, by now they have gotten in touch with the majority of affected property owners and have established contact with the owners of all developed properties.

The first assessments have likewise already been ordered, the results of which are expected in April.

Saar likewise noted that the ECDI would prefer employing the national defense exception in order to move forward with the Nursipalu expansion, due to the rapid timeframe it involves.

According to Heddy Klasen, director of the Spatial Planning Department of the Ministry of Finance, it's crucial to take into account not just the homes that fall within the territory of the planned expansion but also the restriction zone surrounding it in which residents' activities would be restricted, which significantly expands the circle of affected people.

Antsla Municipal Mayor Avo Kirsibaum said that the local governments' questions have been submitted to the Ministry of Defense and the ECDI.

He said that some 20,000 people live within the broader area impacted by the planned expansion, and that local governments are awaiting analysis regarding what kind of impact the expansion of the military training grounds would have on local populations, incomes and real estate prices.

"If there's a fund that's €20,000-30,000 a year, then obviously that's not going to help much," Kirsibaum said.

"On one hand I get that all of this has to be done, but it should all still be justified to the local governments and residents, because ultimately it's still the local government that is closest to local residents," he added.

Rõuge Municipal Mayor Britt Vaher said that local governments aren't satisfied with their involvement in the process, as they lack any confirmation regarding how the process will move forward.

"We're eagerly awaiting that information, as only then can we talk about mitigation measures," Vaher said. "We can'f figure that out becsuse we don't know what the impact will be."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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