Ministry bans publication of bothersome study

Kuigi looduskaitsjad pelgavad, et Tuhala nõiakaevu (pildil) naabrusse kavandatav lubjakivikarjäär võib loodusnähtuse hävitada, väidavad maardlat rajada soovivad Riverito esindajad vastupidist.

PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

Environment ministry prohibited the publication of state financed research results, which corresponded not to the preconceived idea of Nabala needing to be proclaimed ecological reserve to protect karstic clefts and underground rivers. The new ecological reserve is in pipeline within this year.

«It is definitely not true that we banned the publication of the study,» said the ministry media chief Pavel Ivanov.

Author of said study Heikki Bauert begs to differ: the ministry not liking the conclusions drawn in his study, the thing was swept under a rug. No wonder, as Mr Bauert is writing about ecological reserve enthusiasts cheating the public with nonexistent underground rivers discovered by pendulum swingers.

Nice mushrooms

In 2009, the pendulum rivers were entered into the official nature-data system. As pointed out by Mr Bauert, the underground Nabala rivers are defying laws of physics – flowing «uphill».  

«Over 90 per cent of the nature reserve planned lack any karstic phenomena whatsoever; to a small degree, these are present in northern part of it,» reads the research. Even so, over 8,000 hectares are supposed to undergo conservation.

Mr Bauert writes that misinformation had deliberately been spread by ASBL Tuhala Looduskeskus, the entity demanding a nature reserve. Meaning: they have lied about the area featuring open karst i.e. limestone clefts reaching the surface. An area with such openings should undergo special protection as, via the clefts, contamination would quickly spread into groundwater.

Sadly, such open karst is not to be found in Nabala. True, lesser spotted eagles and black storks do dwell there, but their nests lie far from the limestone quarries planned.

The area abounds with protected plants of second and third category; even so, Mr Bauert explains that by how thoroughly the area has been searched. In any forest in the region, says Mr Bauert, such fauna would be found if searched diligently.

In December 2010, Environmental Investment Centre (KIK) confirmed financing of Nabala limestone quarries related study, awarding it about €11,000. Once completed by geologists Heikki Bauert and Rein Perens, the former said they were notified by environment ministry adviser Hanno Zingel who claimed the research had to be complemented by adding data on protected Orchidaceae.

As financing decision by KIK contained a clause that the study results may only be published upon approval by environment ministry, the presentation of study results, by size like a small newspaper, have not been disclosed. Also, the public has never seen the video on study results. Meanwhile, the study has been approved by KIK, which has never contested the quality of its conclusions.

Why did the environment ministry thus dislike the study results? The research by geologists said that the Nabala karstic area, promptly to be turned into a national nature conserve, is nothing but a nice forest for picking mushrooms.

To protect karstic phenomena, a smaller nature reserve has already been created; the famous Kabala Witch’s Well, however, is a manmade one fed from Tuhala River of Leva marsh, Mahtra maremma.

The well, close to Tallinn and boiling over in springtime, is a wonderful sight to behold. Limestone quarries should not endanger water feeding it, being planned to North-East, Tuhala River coming from the South.

Also: the study, done for taxpayer money and ordered by the state, may in no way be labelled as done to please the miners. Thus, no wonder the ministry is no longer interested in its publication.

Environment ministry is in great hurry to create the Nabala nature reserve. Management plan of the reserve is known to have been completed. As confirmed by Mr Ivanov, the decision regarding reserve will be taken ere the year is over.

In my back yard? Never!

Mr Bauert said he understood people’s concerns who do not want limestone quarries or Rail Baltica train tracks near their homes; even so, this ought not to be achieved using faulty data, talking about underground rivers or nitrate-sensitive karstic areas. Based on the study, the reserve-to-be holds neither.

According to Mr Bauert, the locals are adhering to the well-known international principle: not in my backyard!

«But no-one talks about where comes the crushed stone for reconstructing the Tallinn-Tartu highway,» said the author of the study. «Nature conservers and environment ministry get their money from mining and processing of mineral resources. Mining for resources yearly brings hundreds of millions in tax revenues into state budget.»

Mr Bauert also tabled the political card. Nabala is located in Harju-Rapla election district, important for Reform Party. Here, in last elections, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip took nearly 19,000 votes. Reform party harvesting over a third of the region’s votes, the question arises: isn’t environment minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus preserving her party’s popularity by pushing the reserve? 

As also pointed out by Mr Bauert, local elections tend to favour politicians who promise to ward off miners and create nature reserves – denial usually a successful tactic in politics.

By size, Nabala reserves of construction-class limestone come 4th in Estonia. The deposits, located in lads of Kiili, Kose, Saku and Kohila communes, are very important for Tallinn. By size, Maardu deposits would be better, but housing areas have made open diggings impossible there. Therefore, building companies look to Nabala.

Thus, construction company Riverito (parent to Merko Ehitus) and limestone products plant are applying for quarries in Nabala. The processing of applications, however, has been halted by environment minister.

The companies sued the decision. And lost.

Among other things, Tallinn Circuit Court ruled that scientists’ opinions presented by the companies – that quarries cannot harm a nonexistent karstic area – meant nothing.

«The nature reserve was proposed not due to kart alone, but to protect other riches (botanical, for instance). The study in question has been done by a person educated a geologist who is obviously not competent enough in plant ecology and botany,» reads the circuit court decision.

October brought deadline

At environment ministry, proceedings related to mining licences were suspended citing need for research and proper protection procedure. Now, the new Nabala topic is Rail Baltica.

Should they have the nature reserve, the railway must go around it – becoming more expensive. Right not, the railway route would pass Nabala forests where people do not dwell; in times to come, it would bother mushroom pickers.

Despite defeated in court, the will to mine is not dead. According to Riverito board member Teet Roopalu, the company expects the state to come up with scientifically substantiated decision: will there be a nature reserve? Which will be its boundaries?

According to Mr Roopalu, the Nõmmküla quarry applied for by Riverito lies farther away from the Tuhala Witch’s Well than other areas studied. He pointed out that, according to scientists’ study, the region is not linked to the karstic area.

On top of it all: this spring, Riigikogu changed laws so that environment ministry may not suspend proceedings of mining licence for more than 28 months. Regarding Riverito’s Nabala quarry, the deadline came this October. Thus, by now, the ministry ought to be busy with proceedings of the licence application.

According to Ants Talioja, initiator of Nabala nature reserve, he is unwilling to comment until environment minister has approved creation of the reserve. He said this is supposed to take place in a few weeks. 

As assured by representative of environment ministry, decision to create the reserve is being thoroughly weighed.