Tartu protests pulp mill

Selline peaks hakkama välja nägema Emajõe äärde kavandatav tselluloositehas.

PHOTO: Joonis: Est-For Invest / biorefinery.ee

The university town does not need to become a foul-smelling pulp settlement – that is how one could summarize the debate of recent months over Est-For Invest’s plan of building a major pulp mill in the area.

The debate will find its culmination during a Tartu city council meeting today participants of which include Minister of State Administration Jaak Aab, Minister of the Environment Siim Kiisler, the mill’s investors, and renowned scientists (Urmas Varblane, Tarmo Soomere, Ülo Mander, Erik Puura). The meeting is first and foremost a chance to repeated recent thoughts, while it is unlikely it will change minds.

Members of the board of Est-For Invest Margus Kohava and Aadu Polli have had ample opportunities to explain that the mill would use 3.3 million cubic meters of pulpwood and wood chip which Estonia simply sells to Scandinavia at present, create 200 jobs in the Tartu area, yield additional income for forest owners, and could indirectly lead to the creation of another 700 jobs.

Modern but still stinky

This luminous vision of the future was disrupted when ecologist Erik Puura pointed out that a modern pulp mill in Äänekoski, Finland has already spread a blanket of stink over the surrounding area on several occasions and caused other problems.

Puura’s colleague, University of Tartu professor Ülo Mander said that the major mill would inevitably release phosphate pollution into Emajõgi that would pose a serious threat to Lake Peipus. This would place in jeopardy the aim of improving the water bodies’ condition from “bad” to “good” as prescribed by the East Estonia basin’s water management plan.

Entrepreneurs behind the mill project have said that they would need a location no more than 10 kilometers from the Emajõgi as the mill requires a lot of water – 0.85 cubic meters per second that would be sent back to the river after purification.

Another criterion is proximity to the railroad for transport of raw material.

The exact location of the mill is unknown and should be determined in the course of the special plan; however, Kärkna, Vorbuse, and Reola have all been mentioned as possible options. Not by developers, mind you. For a long time, Tartu was debating which potential effects of the mill to analyze. That is no longer the case as most political powers agree that the only sensible option is to conclude the government’s special plan proceedings from spring.

“We have listened to all sides. Considering scientists’ position that it will not be possible to comply with the EU water policy directive or the East Estonia water management plan’s goal of improving the quality of water in Emajõgi and Lake Peipus, the mill cannot be constructed,” said Gea Kangilaski, head of the Social Democrat Party faction of the Tartu city council. “In a situation where the pulp mill would stand in the way of meeting environmental targets, it cannot be built. I believe we have enough grounds to terminate proceedings.”

Mayor of Tartu Urmas Klaas (Reform Party) said a clear no to the mill plan already last week and added that the party’s city council faction agrees with him. He writes in an opinion piece sent to Postimees yesterday that the mill can only be constructed near Emajõgi at the expense of the condition of the river and Lake Peipus and with disregard for the East Estonia basin’s management plan. By making concessions.

Strong backing

Chairman of the city council Aadu Must (Center) said that it would be sensible to analyze first and decide second. Must said he will keep repeating the position that a scientist’s ethics demand the proposed solution cannot harm people, the environment, or regional sustainability. Should a suggested solution pose any of these threats, scientists should come up with solutions to minimize the danger in a grown-up country. For that purpose, studies are sensible.

The city council has a strong mandate for the sitting today in the form of an address bearing over 7,000 signatures, the so-called Tartu appeal.

“Investors cannot be criticized for standing for their business interests. However, it would be even more absurd to criticize the people of Tartu for standing up for the environment of their children and grandchildren, clean air and water,” member of the appeal’s working group, children’s writer Tiia Kõnnusaar explained. “The aim of our address is to point out that the planned mill could seriously harm the social and living environment, future, and reputation of a historical university city.”

Tartu honorary citizen, chemist Tullio Ilomets expressed his bafflement over the fact such a mill is planned near Tartu last weekend. “A major chemical plant is one of the most hazardous types of factories in terms of environmental effects,” Ilomets said. “It is impossible to build a chemical plant that would not have any negative impact or that couldn’t experience problems with the potential to harm the surrounding area. Especially if we consider that the waters of Emajõgi are not in good condition as it is.”

There is another matter that is rubbing the citizens of Tartu the wrong way and that Mayor Klaas plans to talk about today: the government has chosen a state special plan as the medium for the development of the mill, even though the timber industry is not among fields the legislator has designated as subject to national special plans.

The city council sitting should culminate in a declaration that expresses the council’s – very likely negative – position concerning the construction of the mill. What effect this will have on the process is another question. As Tartu councilmen have been informed by head of the finance ministry’s planning department Tiit Oidjärv: Tartu’s position will be considered, while the city does not have veto power in the matter.