Council of Estonian environmental NGOs speaks up against Saaremaa road link spatial plan

  • 2020-06-22
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN – The Council of Estonian Environmental Nongovernmental Organizations (EKO) has proposed that the government not initiate the procedure for a national designated spatial plan and strategic environmental impact assessment with a view to building a permanent link to the islands of Muhu and Saaremaa in the proposed form.

"The Council of Estonian Environmental Nongovernmental Organizations finds that initiating a national designated spatial plan in the form proposed in the draft regulation is not suitable due to the negative impact of the permanent link's bridge option on the bird and nature area of Vainameri Sea," Laura Uibopuu, coordinator of EKO, said in a letter to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications. 

Uibopuu said there is no reason to doubt the conclusions of previous evaluations, according to which the negative impact of a bridge is bigger than that of alternative means of connection and the Ministry of Finance has cited as the reason for mulling the construction of a bridge the fact that in county spatial plans also options concerning the landings of prospective bridges, not only the route option for a tunnel, have been set out. 

"In these spatial plans it hasn't been decided that the construction of a bridge has to be viewed as a suitable alternative. On the contrary, the underlying surveys for Saare County Plan 2030+ arrive at the conclusion that a tunnel is a more realistic and more preferred option," Uibopuu said, adding that under both European Union and Estonian law an activity undermining the integrity of a Natura 2000 area can be permitted only in the absence of alternatives.

According to the EKO coordinaator, this precludes the construction of a bridge, as alternatives to the bridge option exist in the form of a tunnel and a ferry link.

"It doesn't make sense to weigh alternatives in the national designated spatial plan whose implementation will not be possible in the future," Uibopuu said.

The Ministry of Finance announced on June 18 that on the proposal of Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab, the Estonian government has resolved to open the procedure for a national designated spatial plan for the designing of a permanent road link to Muhu island.

The island of Muhu is connected by road with the country's biggest island, Saaremaa.

The government wishes to find out what impacts would be entailed in a permanent link and whether it would be possible considering these impacts to build a bridge or a tunnel between the mainland and Muhu, spokespeople for the Ministry of Finance said.   

A public opinion survey concerning the potential permanent link was completed at the beginning of this year, based on which the government endorsed the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications to forward the application for the initiation of a national designated spatial plan to the minister of public administration. The ministry filed the relevant application to the Ministry of Finance in April of this year. 

The possibility to present their opinions concerning the draft were offered to the business association of Saaremaa, the Council of Estonian Environmental Nongovernmental Organizations, the Estonian Fund for Nature, the Estonian Green Movement and the Estonian Ornithological Society.

It appears from a survey commissioned by the Road Administration that residents of the Saaremaa and Laaneranna municipalities are in favor of a permanent connection, meaning a bridge or a tunnel, whereas the majority of residents of the island of Muhu do not want it.

In parallel to the spatial plan procedure, a strategic environmental impact assessment will be carried out along with an assessment of all social, economic and cultural impacts accompanying  the project.