TALLINN – According to a legal assessment ordered by Wooluvabrik OU, owner of the Linnamae hydroelectric power plant, the Estonian Environmental Board could allow electricity production to continue on the Linnamae dam without contravening the law.
"The legal assessment ordered from the Sorainen law office indicates that the Environmental Board can, without contravening the law, waive its demand to conduct a Natura site exemption procedure for the Linnamae hydroelectric power station," Vahur Kivistik, member of the management board of Wooluvabrik, said in a press release.
One of Estonia's larger hydroelectric power plants is currently operating in Linnamae on the basis of an interim measure issued by the court as the Environmental Board set conducting a Natura site exemption procedure as one preliminary condition for the issuance of a permit for the special use of water to the company. This is a procedure where, for example, new economic activities are being pursued that undermine the conservation objectives of the Natura site.
When it comes to a Natura exception, the applicant is obliged to implement the compensatory measures and activity is only authorized after the measures have been implemented. The Environmental Board believes that conditions should be established on Jagala River for a spawning area of Salmonidae fish, which essentially means the demolition of the power plant, which is included in a list of cultural monuments.
The Linnamae hydroelectric power plant is not a new project within the meaning of the Habitats Directive, as electricity production has been going on unchanged since 2002, several years before the Natura site was created, and the practice of the European Court of Justice supports this approach.
"We have asked the Environmental Board what we must do for the exemption to be processed, but have not received a clear response," Kivistik said. "When it comes to Wooluvabrik, it could mean, for example, the demand to establish a new river, which is not realistic or feasible for us. Sorainen's assessment affirms our stance that the Environmental Board's demand for passing the Natura exception and compensatory measures process is not lawful," he added.
The government at its Cabinet sitting in mid-October gave its nod to giving Wooluvabrik OU, owner of the Linnamae hydroelectric power plant in North Estonia, additional time for applying for a permit for special use of water. The government found that on the basis of existing information, environmental interests do not outweigh economic and social interests when it comes to the Linnamae dam. Thus, both the Linnamae reservoir and the Linnamae hydroelectric power plant must be preserved. A specific way in which this will be solved will be determined by the government in January.
Also in favor of allowing the hydroelectric power plant to continue operating are the residents of the rural municipality of Joelahtme, the rural municipality government, the National Heritage Board, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.
Wooluvabrik has sent the legal assessment of the Sorainen law office to the rural municipality government of Joelahtme for inspection and will forward it to the Environmental Board next week.