The long-running legal battle concerning the construction of a wind farm in eastern Estonia has seen the second-tier circuit court in Tartu uphold an earlier decision by the administrative court, to annul building permits for the project.
The case has involved no less than three ministries: Defense, environment and justice, and seems likely to go to the highest-tier Supreme Court in an effort to block the wind farm's construction, BNS reports. Additionally, local authorities both at county and municipality level, have been involved on both sides of the controversy.
The under-construction wind farm, at Aidu, in the Maidla municipality in Ida-Viru County, has seen a long-running battle between the authorities and Andres and Oleg Sõnajalg, the two brothers behind the project.
Work had started on the wind farm in 2013, but progress has been persistently held up, including on the issue of permissions, and concerns from both the defense and environment ministries. The justice ministry also became involved in proceedings.
In April 2017, the Ida-Viru County governor submitted a protest to the Tartu Administrative Court requesting the annulment of the rural municipality's orders and the resulting building perm
Current legal situation
In late April this year, the administrative court left the county governor's protest unreviewed on a technicality. Estonian law prescribes that the county governor had to go through a compulsory pre-trial procedure before taking matters to court, making his request to the Lüganuse municipality government invalid.
The proposal needed to be submitted within 30 days from the moment the county governor became aware of the construction permits' issuing. According to the courts, the county governor neglected to stick to pre-trial procedure, thus the court was not able to assume a stance on whether the construction permits' or any other substantive issues.
The Ministry of Justice subsequently became the county governor's successor on the case and contested the following May that part of the ruling concerning not reviewing the protest.
Work still halted
As well leaving unreviewed the protest on the revocation of construction permits, the administrative court in April also annulled preliminary legal protection measures, thus again halting the Sõnajalg's company, Aidu Tuulepark OÜ, in building the electric wind turbines cited in the construction permit.
Tartu Circuit Court on Friday upheld the administative court's decision to leave the protest unreviewed.
The circuit court also dismissed the complaint from the justice ministry concerning the revoking of the construction permits of the wind farm, but did not assume a stance on whether said construction permits were lawful.
However, the ruling by the Tartu Circuit Court has no substantive impact on any of the administrative proceedings currently underway, it is reported; the building ban and the prohibition on stay continue to apply, according to the defense ministry.
The ruling of the circuit court can also be appealed within 15 days.
Ministry of Defence opposition to the wind farm
The structures at the unfinished wind farm continue to be in contradiction with the thematic plan and the preliminary design endorsed by the defense ministry, it says, and are not consistent with the building permits issued by the municipality. Furthermore, the erected structures continue to be significantly higher than their endorsed heights. The ministry had previously stated that the dimensions of the turbines could lead them to interfere with radar equipment in the area.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice told BNS Tuesday that it would be appealing the circuit court's decision with the Supreme Court, according to ministry spokesperson Maria-Elisa Tuulik.
According to BNS, considering the course of the dispute so far, the administrative court's decision to leave the protest unreviewed cannot have come as a surprise, and the legal assessment by the new composition of the administrative court must have been foreseeable to those parties to the proceedings.
The Sõnajalg brothers themselves are also planning to file a claim for damages against the state, which, if applied retroactively, could both amount to millions of euros and increase by around two million euros each successive month.
This is in addition to damages to the tune of €500,000 the brothers said they were already seeking from the state, after heavy rain caused water damage to one of the wind turbines in early May this year.
"In the light of the current court rulings, the suspension of construction on Aidu wind farm two years ago was unlawful. Obviously, someone needs to cover those damages, and it's definitely not the developer," Andres Sõnajalg told BNS.
Andres added that the claim is not just limited to loss of revenue, but also concerns costs relating to agreements made with international creditors and the corresponding interest.
The other brother, Oleg Sõnajalg, claimed in a press release that in suspending work on the wind farm, the short-sighted gambling by officials could cost the taxpayer around two million euros per month.
"The facts of the matter are that officials impeding the development of the wind farm would do well to take two steps back, since the state needs to change its tactics. Instead of debilitating the industry supporting the energy turnaround and arguing endlessly, cooperation is required to jointly seek solutions," Oleg Sõnajalg said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte