Environmental activists take legal action against €1 billion pulp mill plan
Civic environmental association Eesti Metsa Abiks (Helping Estonia's Forests, EMA) on Monday filed an application for interim measures and notice of appeal with Tallinn Administrative Court in which the activists call for the annulment of the administrative acts and state's special plan concerning the construction of Est-For Invest OÜ's €1 billion pulp mill.
The environmental association said that the documents are unlawful as they err both against the conditions of the state's special plan and the lawfulness of the planned environmental impact assessment process.
"The plan in question is at present still in a preliminary stage, but mistakes have been detected in its implementation, and not eliminating them would create a situation in which both the state, Est-For and all those persons concerned are contributing an extensive amount of time and financial assets in relation to the plan, but a lot of the work would have to be redone as the plan would be unlawful," the association said.
EMA is questioning both the launch of the state special plan for the pulp mill as well as the current development of the environmental impact assessment process. The unavoidable prerequisite of the drawing up of the state's special plan is that there is national or international interest for the construction in question, but the fact that there is international interest for the construction of the pulp mill has not been mentioned in Est-For's statement or the letter of explanation of order number 141.
The association said that it must therefore only be subject to national interest, but the object of national interest cannot be the creation of an additional 200 jobs or the possible tax revenue, as in that case the construction of the production facilities of essentially every larger than average company would be linked with national special interest. The environmental activists said that there is therefore no actual lawful basis to the launch of the state's special plan.
The association said that there are also shortcomings in the application filed by Est-For, as a number of claims have been made in the statement about the impact of the mill, but there are no references to research or sources upon which the claims are based. The association said that all claims made by the company in said statement are unsubstantiated and cannot be the justification of an administrative act without references to sources.
In its previous correspondence with representatives of Est-For Invest Margus Kohava and Aadu Poll, the civic association has repeatedly asked specific technological questions about the equipment planned to be installed in the mill in order to get an overview of the environmental impact of the industry on the Emajõgi River and nature. Heads of the company have been laconic when it comes to the technology, stripping the rest of society's interest groups of the opportunity to have a say in the construction of the mill.
Finance Ministry: Special plan is lawful
According to the Ministry of Finance, EMA's assessment is not valid.
"The Ministry of Finance does not yet know about the exact content of the materials filed to the court or if the court will begin handling the notice of appeal or not," Tiit Oidjärv, director of the Ministry of Finance's Spatial Planning Department, said in a press release. "According to information that has gone through the media, we can confirm in advance that the claims made in the media are not valid. Preparation for the state's special plan and the strategic assessment of environmental impact have been carried out according to legal acts."
Oidjärv said that the purpose of drawing up the plan and carrying out the the environmental impact assessment process at the same time is to determine where and under what conditions the construction of the mill would be possible.
"According to law, launching the respective state's special plan is the government's decision, which is prepared by the Ministry of Finance," the ministry official explained. "The plan will not be launched if there are known circumstances that exclude carrying out the activity in the future. In order to determine these circumstances, the Ministry of Finance also turned to the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications."
The ministries highlighted topics within their jurisdiction which must be focused on when drawing up the plan, Oidjärv noted. The ministries also said that there were no circumstances which would rule out carrying out the planned activity before the launch of the planning solutions, i.e. before developing solutions, assessing impact and other activities linked to the planning process.
"We have already bilaterally agreed on a meeting with [EMA] in order to clarify circumstances before the planning procedure substantially begins," said Oidjärv. "The first publications in the framework of planning process will presumably happen at the end of this year. In addition, we also wish to involve the citizens' movement constructively in the planning process after the planning process has substantially begun as well."
Editor: Aili Vahtla