Soodla military training area development concerns local residents

EDF artillery piece on exercise.
EDF artillery piece on exercise. Source: Jaan Vanaaseme / Kaitseväe Peastaap /

Local residents in Anija Rural Municipality, near Tallinn, have expressed concerns over the planned, heightened use of a military training area, ahead of public consultation sessions to be held on the matter later this month.

The area, at Soodla, around 40km east of Tallinn, is already used as a military training area, but whereas its use has been confined to small arms exercises, the increased need to accommodate artillery pieces, heavy tanks and other military equipment, including those used by Estonia's NATO allies, has prompted the Ministry of Defense to upgrade the facility to this end.

The zone will not be expanded in land area, but tree-felling, road building and other developments will impact the area, in addition to the greater noise pollution from the heavier equipment.

This will include the firing of artillery pieces from inside the zone, whose targets will be sited in the Central Training Area (Keskpolügoon), located around 25km to the east.

The land in between the two sites is largely taken up by a reservoir (Soodla veehoidla) and the Põhja-Kõrvemaa Nature Reserve (Põhja-Kõrvemaa LKA).

The ministry says the redeveloped training area will be ready to use by the end of next year.

However, local nature tourism promoter Marilin Pehka told ERR that the development will impact negatively on the natural environment.

She said: "As of today we are looking at a bleak scenario relating to the Soodla training ground whereby we will lose access to the Koitjärve bog, where we organize hikes in different seasons."

"When exercises take place [at the training area], we will not be able to access the bog. Similarly, the Soodla reservoir has been [important] for hike organizers, for kayaking and canoeing in summer and skating and skiing trips in winter," Pehka went on (see map below - the Central Training Area is located somewhat to the east of Kõitjärve).

Anija, Soodla and the Kõitjärve bog, are all located in the vicinity of the Soodla military training area. Source: Google Maps

Larger artillery pieces which the training area may host cause significantly more noise pollution than emanates from the zone in its current dimensions, council deputy at the local Anija Rural Municipality and local resident Triinu Allipere says.

Allipere said: "At the moment we get these explosive rounds at such a volume that my house walls shudder. I live 500m from the training ground, on the banks of the [Soodla] reservoir. These blasts get amplified quite strongly as they pass across the water. We have not yet experienced the tank firing exercises planned for here;" adding that assurances that the firing will be in the opposite direction from her residence do not convince her."

Local residents have together gone over their concerns and have made proposals to the Ministry of Defense as well, she added; other concerns include military vehicles jamming the local minor roads – something which they say already happens, while trees felled to accommodate the expansion will mean even less absorption of sound waves, they say.

Head of environmental policy and spatial planning of the Ministry of Defense Kadri Auvärt said new opportunities are needed in order to practice armored maneuverability in cooperation with NATO allied units, hence the expansion.

"It is also required in order to conduct small arms and artillery firing exercises that cannot be accommodated by the central training area," Auvärt said, referring to the Central Polygon – the Estonian Defense Forces' (EDF) main training area in north Estonia, around 25km to the east of Soodla.

Unlike the Central Training Area's southern counterpart, at Nursipalu, the Soodla zone is not to be expanded in area, Auvärt added, simply that it will be upgraded, with a connecting road linking it to the Central Training Area to be built.

The special plan was already filed last autumn, but it is still too early to state exactly how many local residents will be affected by the development, Auvärt said.

Public consultation sessions are due to take place on March 20 and March 21.

The expansion of the Nursipalu training area in Võru County prompted such a public backlash that it became somewhat of an election issue – though apparently this did not translate into electoral results; the project was closely associated with Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform), while the Prime Minister herself faced an arguably mean crowd at a town hall meeting in Võru earlier in the year.

Nonetheless, Reform increased their mandate by three seats after the election, partly as a result of the strong showing in southeast Estonia – where Nursipalu is located.

The Soodla area lies within the same electoral district in which Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) polled at an all-time record 31,821 votes, last Sunday.

Nearby Tapa has for over six years been home to the British-led NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup, one of four equivalent groups based in the three Baltic States and Poland.

Troops from Denmark and France regularly contribute to eFP rotations also.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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