The government on Thursday finalized the compensation measures to be handed to local governments affected by the Nursipalu military training area expansion.
The training area is located in Võru County, but the compensation measures will apply much more broadly, to a total of 16 (out of 79) municipalities nationwide, reflecting the fact that Nursipalu is not the only military training area in the land, and that the changed security situation may lead to further developments with all of the training areas.
Thursday's decision also finalized the boundaries of the Nursipalu expansion.
Seven such military training area zones have been formalized across Estonia, six of them in North or North-East Estonia.
In fact, the already functioning Nursipalu training area, which has been attracting the lion's share of the media attention over the past year, is the only example from South Estonia.
The government opted to expand the Nursipalu grounds, from 3,000ha to around 9,000ha, via an expedited procedure.
This was done for security reasons and within the understanding of exemptions in legislation for objects of national defense significance.
Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur (Reform) says that the use of this national defense exemption does not mean that the effects on the environment, one of the main concerns raised by the expansion, get ignored.
Assessments already carried out demonstrate that by operating on a limited scale, a negative impact on the environment is avoided, he added.
"With this decision the new boundaries of the training area have been confirmed," Pevkur said.
"It is important to understand that, after the decision, only those activities whose effects on the environment have been excluded can be carried out. This means activities on a highly limited scale, such as cutting down the forest in the planned deforestation areas and shooting small-caliber weapons there from September to the end of January.
Other activities in order to allow it, an impact assessment must be carried out and mitigating measures must be planned. Only then can the government give permission for the implementation of these activities. Shooting with large-caliber weapons is not permitted by today's government decision," explained the Minister of Defense.
The government decision also initiates the Natura 2000 appropriate impact assessment was also initiated, and those of other effects on the environment, incuding noise and vibration, as assessed separately.
The EU Natura 2000 network relates to nature conservation areas across the union.
Pevkur said that the compensation to local government is higher than in the past, and can be utilized by municipalities to alleviate the disturbances caused by the presence of the military training zone, as well as other, unrelated improvements.
"Whether it this be a school building heating system, a cycle lane, or something else, the local community knows best," he added.
The fee will be paid retrovactively for this year, to a total of 16 municipalities affected (three of which have land earmarked for the actual expanded zone).
Thes are, in alphabetical order (all rural municipalities unless otherwise noted): Autaguse, Anija, Antsla, Kadrina, Kiili, Kuusalu, Lääne-Harju, the City of Narva-Jõesuu, the City of Pärnu, Rõuge, Saarde, Saku, Tapa, Toila, the City of Võru, and Võru Rural Municipality (a separate entity).
In addition to the annual support approved by the government, four local municipalities associated with Nursipalu will receive a one-time investment support totaling €10 million; Võru municipality will receive €3 million, Antsla municipality €2 million, Rõuge municipality €2 million and Võru city €3 million.
A grant is also in the works, paid directly to residents to mitigate noise and vibration disturbance in residential buildings. More precise conditions for its implementation are under development.
A second decision saw the government approve compensation measures for local governments to mitigate the significant disruptions caused by the use of the Nursipalu training area.
This annual measure will increase by €1 million, to €1.35 million.
The circle of local governments eligible for that measure will expand from nine, to 16 as noted.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael