The government decided in its Thursday cabinet meeting to continue with the planning process for the controversial billion-euro pulp mill project despite complaints by residents and local government in the affected area, who are demanding that the government stop the planning process.
The city of Tartu submitted an application to the government in March calling for an immediate stop of the planning process for investor group Est-For's pulp mill. The complaint is driven mainly by environmental concerns, while Mayor Urmas Klaas (Reform) has also said that the mill doesn't go with the city's economic concept and image.
The different rural municipalities in Tartu County have voiced similar opinions, with seven out of its eight local governments following the city's move.
Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) is expected to issue a detailed response in the next few days, while in its Thursday cabinet meeting the government already decided to continue with the planning process despite the objections of the local population.
"The local governments' opinions are certainly an important argument. And the Ministry of the Environment has certainly replied to their arguments with its own. The main issue is that the arguments made in their applications aren't backed up or proven by studies. That is why the government deemed it right to continue with the next round of studies, which is how we'll get answers and then there are also arguments whether or not to continue with the planning process," Aab explained to ERR's "Aktuaalne kaamera" newscast on Thursday.
In a press release later on the same day, Aab once again stressed that the planning process itself doesn't mean that the pulp mill will necessarily be built, seeing as the final decision could be made only based on the studies still to be carried out in detail.
Environmentalists as well as local politicians have heavily criticized the fact that in its current form the planning process has been based entirely on the feasibility and environmental studies submitted by Est-For, the group of investors planning to build the mill.
An argument has also been that the national interest required for the planning exception the current process is based on is not given in this case, a point of view that in the meantime has been rejected by a court as well following a legal complaint by environmentalist groups.
Aab also commented on the principal arguments in the debate. "You can't do regional politics on one hand and hamper it with emotional arguments on the other," the minister said. "If businessmen have a plan to invest in the Estonian economy and create new jobs outside Tallinn, then we have to allow it if at all possible."
Still, this couldn't be done at the expense of the environment, he added, which is precisely why the studies as part of the next step in the planning process are necessary. "All of this is still open," Aab said.
The government went ahead with the planning process for the pulp mill last year after the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs all backed the move. Tartu County and Viljandi County are considered as a possible location for the pulp mill.
Editor: Dario Cavegn