TALLINN - A new coal terminal in the Muuga Port outside Tallinn has come under fire, as reports surfaced that it's been spewing black dust over nearby villages and that new Russian export tariffs could seriously impair its competitiveness.
Residents of Uuskula, a nearby village, and Joelahtme have complained of copious amounts of coal dust showering down. The worst instance occurred Oct. 15 's 16, during windy days, when Uuskula was entirely covered in black dust, said Peeter Hutt, the town's mayor.
"The dust spread to the distance of several kilometers and even residents of the seaside village of Kallavere complained that black dust penetrated between their double glazing," Hutt told the Postimees.
Joelahtme Commune governor Taimi Saarma said that residents of Uuskula, Saviranna and Kallavere had started to complain about coal dust at the end of August.
She explained that the terminal operator, Coal Terminal, had a temporary operating license to test its installations. However, the license expired at the end of August, and Joelahtme authorities have so far not issued a permanent one.
Thus the 100-million euro terminal has no pollution licenses of any kind.
In a letter to Coal Terminal dated Oct. 7, Saarma informed the company that its license applications had not been properly filled out, that documentation was deficient and state duties unpaid.
The letter also states that three quarters of the total amount of coal the company handles should be of the dust-free, high-quality sort.
To the contrary, most of the coal in the storage areas is of low quality, and wind coming in from the sea spreads it out over nearby villages, according to reports.
The coal terminal was completed in April. The facility, which includes quays and storage facilities, received its first trains in early summer and its first ship at the end of July.
Tallinna Sadam (Port of Tallinn) invested 808 million kroons (51 million euros) in the terminal and its client, Muuga Coal Terminal Operator, some 660 million kroons.
Muuga Coal Terminal Operator belongs to Russia's second-largest coal producer Kuzbassrazrezugol. It expects to handle some 5 million tons of coal annually, though capacity may be raised to 9 million tons in the future.
However, there has been speculation that planned changes in Russia's rail tariffs, the one factor that allows the new terminal to exist, will amount to a slow death for the Muuga Coal Terminal Operator.
The company was quick to deny the reports.
"According to terminal information, the reports published in Estonia's media about Russia's plans to introduce tariffs, along with other restrictions on the transit shipment of its coal exports via Estonian ports, are not true," spokespeople for the company said.
They added that the effective tariff policy enabled Estonia and the Port of Muuga to compete with similar ports in Russia and Ukraine, thanks to the existing technical facilities and high quality of the services offered.
While Russian rail tariffs may change next year due to inflation, Coal Terminal has no information about planned "unfriendly" tariffs as regards Estonia, it said. Coal Terminal officials said the company had a five-year agreement with Kuzbasrazrezugol.
Indeed, Kuzbasrazrezugol is a state-owned company that enjoys Moscow's support. Since becoming president in 2000, Vladimir Putin has tried to improve the plight of Russia's coal miners, who work in hellish conditions and during the Yeltsin era went unpaid for months. By keeping rail tariffs for Russian coal low, Moscow can ensure that coal companies readily export their output.
Coal has accounted for a large part of the growth in cargo turnover at Riga Free Port, which also receives shipments from Russia.