Waste dump project postponed

  • 2002-12-12
  • Aleksei Gunter

Protests staged by village residents have forced a large waste-processing company to give up its a major waste project in northwestern Estonia.

Ragn-Sells, one of the largest waste processing companies in Estonia, had to surrender its 500 million kroon (31.95 million euros) project for a refuse site next to Aasmae, a village with 664 residents in Harju country 15 kilometers southwest of Tallinn. The company said it would carry on with the project as soon as a new site is found.

According to Rein Leipalu, CEO of Ragn-Sells, the company had carried out a number of surveys to find a suitable location for the modern and environmentally friendly waste dump west of the Estonian capital.

"Today we have unfortunately reached a situation when the 500 million kroon Aasmae project must be stopped," said Leipalu.

A swamp area next to Aasmae had been considered to be the best of the 20 possible locations examined in the region from 1997 to 1998.

The actual selection took place in 1998 and did not correspond with the contemporary requirements for waste dumps, according to critics of the Aasmae dump project. In addition, cooperation with the local government was considered less than satisfactory.

No less important, the Aasmae swamp is also home of an endangered plant species, according to Agu Remmelg, development director of Ragn-Sells.

The environmental-risk analysis carried out for the project by Entec Ltd. was viewed non-professional by Aasmae residents, and Ragn-Sells admitted this on Nov. 29, said Remmelg, who added that the termination of the Aasmae project keeps the problem of the old, environment-unfriendly waste dumps alive.

"We decided to stop the project because it is impossible to carry on correctly and purposefully. However, we still consider that the northwestern part of the country needs a dump since this region produces about one-half of all waste produced in Estonia," said Remmelg.

Ahto Oja, member of the For Clean Aasmae movement, says that environmental hazards were the main reason for the protests.

For example, Saussurea Alpina subspecies Esthonica is an extremely rare plant in Estonia, and its natural territory may not be destroyed.

What's more, the greater spotted eagle (Aquila Clanga Pallas) that nests in the Aasmae swamp is a globally endangered bird species.

"It is listed in the first appendix of the European Bird Directive. There are only some 3,000 pairs of this bird left in this world," said Oja.

A waste dump in northwestern Estonia is also slated in the national waste program approved by Parliament last week. The program does not specify a concrete location but lists the criteria of the future dump.

Peeter Eek, head of the waste management department at the Ministry of Environmental Affairs, said that termination of the Aasmae project was not a catastrophe, and even if Ragn-Sells does not build any dump in the northwestern region, there are alternative solutions.

"Although the location [of the Aasmae waste dump] was perfect in sense of logistics, the waste flows from Tallinn and other major towns could be redirected into the Paikuse waste dump in Parnu county, or the Joelahtme dump next to the capital," said Eek. "Transportation costs might be a little higher though."

Eek also expressed the opinion that the local government was not given enough attention.

"Next time Ragn-Sells must think more about whether a local government wants a waste dump on its territory. If the answer is positive, then they [Ragn-Sells and the local government] must find a suitable site together," said Eek.