A total of 64 people from Võru County in South Estonia have a submitted a class action suit to the first-tier administrative court, in respect of the government's decision to expand a nearby military training area.
The complainants have demanded the planned expansion, to the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) training area at Nursipalu, be annulled.
MTÜ Meie Nursipalu, an NGO set up in response to the enlargement – which would see the training zone triple in size from its current area of around 3,000 hectares (see image) – reads: "The people demand the cancellation of the government's order of October 20, 2023."
That order refers to the: "Expansion of the EDF Nursipalu training area without applying the planning law, failing to assess the environmental impact and initiating an appropriate evaluation of Natura [EU protection areas]," the appeal goes on.
The NGO also noted that it was playing a coordinating role on the complaint, which comes from the 64 private individuals themselves.
"Since court proceedings are costly and hiring a law firm would be too much for many people on their own, those people have contacted the NGO and opted to file a joint complaint," the NGO added in its appeal.
Lawyer Henno Nurmsalu is acting on behalf of the applicants.
A representative from the NGO added that. "This is one of the biggest class action complaints of all time. People from a variety of places have appealed to the court, because the detonations and the sound of artillery fire from the training zone would disturb and disrupt everyday life."
This disruption has already been the case ahead of the training area's planned expansion, and since it was recommissioned for EDF use several years ago.
At least 30,000 people have been disturbed by the noise pollution up to now, the applicants say. Since Võru County's population is around 35,000, this means the bulk of residents are and will continue to be affected, the applicants went on.
This is before newer and more capable weapons start to get used once the zone is expanded – indeed part of the rationale for enlarging the Nursipalu training area is to accommodate state-of-the-art equipment, such as K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzers, and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), being utilized following the changed security situation.
The NGO added that: "The training area planned for Võru County is disproportionately large, while the implementation of all the planned activities will disrupt the entire way of life in Võru County."
MTÜ Meie Nursipalu itself has also initiated two lawsuits, in May, along with 19 other applicants, and in October, when the NGO sued the Environmental Board (Keskonnaamet) over a planned bridge to be built over the Rõuge River as part of the facility's expansion. The latter case is currently being processed at court.
Editor: Andrew Whyte