A high-tech pulp mill to be built in the Tartu and Suur-Emajõgi river area comes if a number of serious environmental risks, environmental organizations have warned.
The project's size is enormous not only by Estonian conditions. At a total investment volume of over a billion euros, it is expected to employ some 200 and cause 1.1 to 1.4 percent GDP growth.
Although looking at Estonia's forest map, a location just north of Valga would be better, the pulp mill needed to be close to a river, Margus Kohava of Est-For Invest said in a press release early in May. Est-For Invest is the company behind the project.
The area around Tartu and the Suur-Emajõgi river also meant access to the kind of infrastructure and workforce the mill would need, Kohava added.
According to a statement by environmental organizations, considering the size of the project it is important to appreciate the fact that the impact on the local environment will be enormous as well.
The Estonian Council of Environmental NGOs (EKO) stresses that building the mill will mean noticeable dangers to the surrounding area that will need to be brought to the attention of the public, as well as expert studies and a thorough debate.
EKO outlines five potential dangers connected with the new pulp mill:
1. Danger to the condition of the Suur-Emajõgi river and Lake Peipus
The current state of the two bodies of water is categorized as “bad” (the condition of a body of water is expressed using “very good”, “good”, “poor”, “bad”, and “very bad”). In the 2015-2027 East-Estonia Water Management Plan the state has set it as an aim to improve the state of the local bodies of water, and to get them to “good” by 2027. The pulp mill would have a serious effect on this plan, EKO finds.
With the management plan in place, Estonia had both the obligation and the wish to improve the condition of its lakes and rivers, which is why the pulp mill needed to be built in a way that its water use was limited to a closed system, or at least with the demand that the company directed only water into the river that was at least as clean as the river itself, EKO stated.
2. Danger to Estonian forests due to excessive logging
The way Estonia manages its forests is currently at a point where environmental organizations on one side and the state and private forest owners on the other disagree on what the maximum logging volume should be. There is disagreement among experts as well.
The reality did not back up the state's claim and the provision of the Forest Act, EKO stated. The state had no idea what the logging volume of the current year would eventually be, and had not made any efforts to effectively limit logging volumes. The state had no sufficient overview of the industry either.
Surveys had already shown that the current disorganized approach negatively affected the forests and the habitats it provided to the local fauna, EKO's statement reads.
A new large consumer of forest resources like the planned pulp mill would worsen the current situation. Before the next large investments, measures needed to be taken to guarantee a sustainable use of Estonia's forests, including the appropriate legal measures.
3. Danger of the mill's business not being run environmentally friendly
The third danger specified by EKO is that so far there is no clear environmental policy for the new mill, and no certification for the way it will use and process resources. The developers didn't want to limit their business with such certification, EKO stated. Concerns that the construction of the new pulp mill would lead to excessive logging were answered with assurances that any lack in available raw material would be compensated by buying timber from Latvia, despite the fact that it was facing similar environmental issues related to forest management.
4. Danger that the assessment of the pulp mill's environmental impact is inadequate
Analyses of the environmental impact of a project like Est-For Invest's pulp mill were commissioned via public tender, which according to common practice meant going for the cheapest bidder, EKO wrote in its statement. This extremely important work would this way end up being dealt with in a way that offered no quality guarantees.
EKO also pointed out that the usual analysis would not suffice in the case of such a large project, and that broader studies were needed to really get an idea what the pulp mill's eventual environmental impact would be.
5. Danger of the state supporting the mill at the expense of the enviroment
EKO expressed concern about what it sees as the state's practice in recent years to support large companies at the expense of the environment. This included loosening environmental requirements and fees, such as tax breaks for the oil shale and peat industries, allowing the commercial use of Saaremaa's deep-water harbor, and several changes to the Forest Act that gave preference to those using timber industrially.
Building the pulp mill would affect policy in so far that the need for unreasonably large volumes of timber would have to be accommodated, and other interests, the environmental ones among them, would be underrated when making policy decisions.
EKO wrote in its statement that all of these factors couldn't be ignored, and that to avoid potentially extensive damage to the environment clear action as well as cooperation on the part of the state was needed to reduce the risks as much as possible.
The Estonian Council of Environmental NGOs (EKO) unites ten environmental organizations.
Editor: Dario Cavegn