Sa, 4.02.2023
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Gas pipe route defies distress of locals

Anette Parksepp
, reporter
Gas pipe route defies distress of locals
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Photo: Erik Prozes

With the two options for Balticconnector gas pipe placement, impact on nature is rather alike. Even so, Elering favours the variant through a village which stands against. 

Right next to Paldiski, Harju County, there lies this little village of Kersalu with 73 inhabitants when last counted. The villagers are angry now, as the Balticconnector gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia is planned to pass their back yard.

This week featured public discussions in Paldiski and economy ministry, where environment experts and Elering – builder of Balticconnector in partnership with the Finnish company Gasum Oy – presented the two alternative routes and environmental impact thereof.  

The gas pipe passes under the sea. For inhabitants of Estonia, the main issue is where it heads once out of the water, and where the needed compression station is going to be built. The first version prescribes that the pipe enters dry land in Kersalu, and the station is built where the village borders with the city of Paldiski. An alternative would be for the pipe to come out of the waters where the LNG station is located in Paldiski where the compressing station would also be located – in a place with no residential house within a radius of 2.4 kilometres.  

Seals and humans

A dozen people from Kersalu showed up for the debate at Paldiski city government. A leading expert for the presentation, Rein Kitsing, took 1.5 hours to describe peculiarities of both versions. While the man was expounding on what the pipe would do to the various planktons, currents and seals, the villagers were growing agitated as their concerns seemed rather overlooked. «The report seems to forget there is this species called human being around,» noted Kersalu village society member Eve Piibeleht.

For the locals, concern No 1 is security. Meaning: should the unlikely worst happen and the pipe explode with winds at 18 or more metres a second, the area to inflame would extend to 630 metres – the end for houses of the villagers. Meanwhile, the impact assessment limits itself to houses within 50 metres.

To evaluate how many household might be touched by the pipe, environmental experts asked Keila Parish for information about detailed plans. They were told that no detailed plans had been laid down in 2014 and no new residential areas were planned near the pipe-to-be in comprehensive plan of the parish.

Village people beg to differ, noting there are plots all around the line with foundations laid, forest cut down, and the land on sale. As pointed out by village lady Diana Vegen, low density villages are not required to lay down detail plans, wherefore the actual situation corresponds not with what the official info says at the parish.  

«But we can’t go trampling around behind every bush,» said AS Elering Gaas project manager Priit Heinla to explain the difference between report and reality. «Our project covers hundreds and thousands of square kilometres, we cannot walk through it all.»

The other major worry for locals is the compressing station, mainly the noise. The location of the station is linked to the pipe, but its impact was assessed earlier, in 2007, with detailed plan laid down last year. Thus, the locals actually have no say in this most pressing issue any more. On top of that, over the eight years the situation has changed in Kersalu: while the old impact assessment says the area around compressing station is without buildings and largely under scrubs, now new houses are being built in the neighbourhood and about a hundred households are nearby.  

«In the initial environmental impact assessment programme, it was prescribed that line and station be assessed together, but now they have for some reason divided it up,» complained villager Mart Klesment. «Frankly, we couldn’t care less where the pipe goes. If it will run beneath the high voltage power line, it won’t indeed bother us. It’s all about the compressing station.»

As pointed out by Mr Klesment: the environmental impact assessment says the station yearly emits 60–150 tonnes of methane and 15–30 tonnes of nitrogen, and that its sound volume is 135 up to decibels. While Elering explained the gas is odourless, the noise is a reality.

Some time ago, discussions did happen around the station, but the Kersalu folks had no idea. As the station’s official location is in the city of Paldiski, all the debates were held there and the information was only published on the city website. Even the gas pipe information was available on city website and the villagers say they only found out by accident – no matter that the station will sit on their border thus affecting daily lives.

Info shared badly

As admitted by Priit Heinla, the communication has been poor – but that’s the way it is regulated for local governments. «During the planning procedures, we are not going door to door asking if people agree,» he said.

While the discussions were underway in 2007, citizens of Paldiski expressed concerns about the compressing station noise as well. Therefore, the city issued Elering a precept to build a closed station. Simply put: though the station might have been built on an empty lot, it now has to come complete with walls and a roof around it. Also, Keila Parish prescribed that noise barriers be built around it. Mr Heinla said that though this may be interpreted to mean that they have to build noise barriers, he interprets it to say that if they build the station in a closed building then that will be enough.

He went on to say he would consider local concerns. Firstly, that would mean they would use a less noisy technology if need be. Even so, the overall atmosphere of the discussions seemed to suggest that the alternative course will not be chosen simply because the locals are upset.

Regarding environmental impact, both courses are rather equal, and the expert Rein Kitsing said none could be claimed to be superior. The Kersalu variant is better as the pipe is shorter by four kilometres. Environmentally speaking, there is a few kilometres’ worth of less mess with the nature which would recover anyhow. Economically, the pipe would cost less money to build.

«Humanly speaking, I do understand – a compressing station in my back yard would not be the nicest thing,» even Mr Heinla admitted. «All I can say is we will consider the opinion of the locals. But we will surely choose the Paldiski variant if we will have the LNG terminal.»

Zero compensation

The potential LNG station is still hanging in the air, and Mr Heinla said that Elering would be waiting for the decision till next summer before it gets busy digging in Kersalu.

Another matter is what will be if they opt for the Kersalu version and only afterwards it turns out that Paldiski will have an LNG terminal after all. The, about eight kilometres of additional pipeline will have to be built, to connect the LNG terminal with the pipeline located in Kersalu.

Mr Heinla hinted that in LNG station will not be, the Kersalu variant will be chosen: «With a strong political will to go ahead with the project as fast as possible, and no answer comes from the LNG terminal developer, it seems to make sense that we choose the course according to the political will present,» he said.

Mr Heinla said that in case the village gets the pipeline, no compensation is in store for the people. Villager Klesment recalled that two years ago a cycle and pedestrian track was promised to come with the pipeline, above it, if the high voltage line track were chosen. «Surely no cycle and pedestrian track is coming nor allowed there,» argued Mr Heinla.

He said the promises have changed as the company has since changed hands – while majority holding in Elering Gaas (then named EG Võrguteenus AS) belonged to the Russian group Gazprom, then the cycle and pedestrian track they promised is not on the table anymore.

The villagers, however, were swift to explain they could not care less about the compensation. «Let us tell you point blank that we will have recourse to county governor, and to courts if needed,» announced Diana Vegen. «We won’t accept this kind of behaviour.»

«We have a line 150 kilometres in length, and for that we have about a hundred private owners who we have been to court with,» Mr Heinla told the villagers. «Thus far, in the various instances, the courts have been on our side regarding the plans. Just saying. That does not mean you could not sue, that’s your right.»