New pulp mill plan: into the woods and out of sight

PHOTO: Liis Treimann

If the initial pulp mill location of Vorbuse – at least that was the impression left after months of debates – would have lied right next to Emajõgi and been close to the railroad and highways, the new idea of Est-For Invest’s board members Aadu Polli and Margus Kohava just made things a lot more confusing. The mill must be built in the middle of the woods.

“We have never wanted the mill in Vorbuse,” Kohava told Tartu Postimees yesterday. During a Tartu city council sitting in March, his colleague Polli said that if the mill cannot be built in the chosen location (which debates suggested was in Vorbuse), it will not be built at all. Kohava said as much when speaking to students of the Estonian University of Life Sciences in late March. Now, Kohava and Polli write in an opinion piece published in Eesti Päevaleht yesterday:

“In the preliminary stages of planning we can immediately discard all locations that lie fewer than 10 kilometers from Tartu city center. We dream of a location west of Tabivere, in the middle of woods. The location is 21 km from the center of Tartu as the crow flies. There, in the middle of dense forest, the mill would not be visible or perceivable for the residents of Tartu. The location would make it possible to disperse trucks coming from the north, west, and south. The railroad would help reduce road traffic intensity. If effects analyses, including environmental and social impact studies, permit it, we would like to construct the pulp mill in the woods of Tabivere.”

The article was accompanied by a map that showed the possible location of the mill as lying 6 km west of Tabivere, 21 km from Tartu, and 9 km from Emajõgi.

Politicians’ race to take stands

The scale of the map is off, but it is possible this is caused by poor computer graphics work. No place 9 km from Emajõgi and 6 km west of Tabivere can be found.

The village of Koogi lies 6 km west of Tabivere but is some 15 km removed from the river. There are forested locations 5 km south of Koogi that are 9 km from Emajõgi; however, these do not lie directly west of Tabivere.

After thousands of people came together on the banks of the Emajõgi to protest the planned mill and the project was given the nickname “cellulite factory”, the matter of the mill’s state special plan became a priority in political circles.

Leading politicians of all three coalition parties rushed to say that the state special plan needs to be reviewed as it cannot be taken forward due to opposition from locals. The matter should come up at this week’s government sitting.

It is difficult to say which reached Tabivere first that morning: the first proper summer rain or news that the new location of the pulp mill lies just a few hundred meters from the strawberry patches of the people of Tabivere.

The grass has been neatly cut in yards and houses have been given new coats of paint and roofs in the last decade. It seems people love this place. The fresh rain gives early summer an enchanting smell.

Children live in Finland, they won’t be coming back

Tabivere lies east of the future plant’s location; that is to say it lies downwind. The plant could be smelled in Tabivere should there be scent disturbance – as it is called by Polli and Kohava.

“My boss said I would get work,” said Enn Põldmaa (56) who was working on the rural municipality’s lawns with a trimmer. Põldmaa is a former forester who has worked in the Kursi forest district and now lives on the former forester’s farm.

“If only the water would endure,” he added. “That it wouldn’t ruin the river.”

A veterinarian by education, it has been a long time since Põldmaa worked as one. “Where can you find animals these days, only cats are left.”

“I have ten years left until retirement. I have 17 teeth left, and I compared myself to a vet I know. He has 22!” he says and starts the trimmer again.

He is in favor.

“I’m against; what does it matter whether it’s Tartu or Tabivere? Estonia is one. The great lake will be ruined!” says Arno Õunapuu (67). He is sitting behind the wheel of a recently repainted T-16 tractor that has a trimmer in the back.

“Luckily, the weather took a turn for the cool, makes my life easier,” he says and promises to get right to work.

Õunapuu used to be a farm engineer and remembers a time when Koogi was a hotspot of Soviet Estonia. It was the only time this out-of-the-way location has been on the map so to speak. It experienced an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Allegedly.

“Animals were given distillery wash, it was hot. They started foaming at the mouth. No one found out whether it was the disease or because the animals had burnt their mouths!”

The bus took backroads to avoid the village. A quarantine was in effect in the village. Formalin mats were laid in front of doors of neighboring schools to stop children from getting infected. It was the early 1980s.

“Jüri Ratas is as vague as a foggy horizon, and so is EKRE and all of them. No one takes any responsibility, even though that is what a government should do.”

Arno’s son and daughter live in Finland. They have a house there and speak Finnish. “They come to visit, but they will not be coming back to Estonia. Don’t take pictures of my house, it is so ugly!” The house is pretty, built when Päts was president. The yellow paint is slightly faded, but who will notice.

Arno remains opposed.

The new location of the plant somewhere near Koogi raises a host of questions. First, there’s water. The Laeva river has been dammed in Koogi and has a fish ladder built with funding from the Environmental Investments Center (KIK). A mother duck and four ducklings are lounging on a large boulder in the middle of the artificial lake. She rouses her ducklings and swims out of sight when she notices us.

A great Caucasian Shepherd Dog is chewing on a bright orange ball. Houses are fixed up, their gardens full of flowers. Only the old Koogi manor hall, Charlottenhof as its former owners used to call it, stands with black holes instead of windows. The wall of the building closest to the road holds a sign that discourages exploration near and inside the building.

Laeva river not enough for the mill

Professor of landscape ecology at the University of Tartu Ülo Mander says: “It is (Margus) Kohava’s old idea. It changes nothing as far as the Emajõgi is concerned. The Laeva river that runs through the village of Koogi is barely a ditch. If the state plans to construct this infrastructure, which it seems intent on doing, expenses will be much greater. The water of the Laeva river is not enough. They will have to build a massive pipeline from Emajõgi to the mill and another one to send waste water back to the river.”

Mander says that Polli and Kohava’s article comes as a cry for help. “Jüri Raidla (Est-For Invest’s legal counsel, one of the initiators of the state reform) finds himself over a barrel. So does the government. No one wants to admit the plan has been drawn up willy-nilly,” the professor said.

“There are no power lines there (in the woods near Koogi); if they say they want to produce electricity and sell it to the grid, they will have to construct massive transmission infrastructure. Then there is the question of roads – 700 timber trucks a day – how could it be possible? I don’t know,” Mander said.

“I do not have an opinion yet,” says Jüri Küpar. The house he and his family moved into in 2011 lies a few kilometers from Tabivere and Koogi.

Küpar drives a harvester and says he has at times been forced to sit at home for months on end because there is little work. The mill would surely mean more work for him. The house is ready, the sauna still needs some work.

Behind a fence, two dogs are licking their chops. One looks like a proper guardian but turns out to be friendly enough to slobber the guest with kisses.

Bad smells will waft away

Küpar slows down when I mention 700 daily trucks. “In that case we would need a light traffic road to get to Tabivere.”

There is another yard before Koogi that holds a nearly completed log house and inside it Toomas Haidak.

A rescue worker who spends his free days working construction. “Yesterday, a call came in of a cloud billowing up. A tractor was working on a field and dust was flying. People are too diligent.”

He is against. “I’m a fisherman, I cannot stand for them ruining the river.”

Next to Koogi manor lies Roosi farm and between its beanstalks Arli Tintson. A red cat called Mishka comes out and eagerly rubs himself against the visitor’s legs.

Tintson’s one-year-old daughter is sleeping inside. The family has lived in Koogi for two years. They wanted a place close to the city (no more than 20 kilometers that still turned to 30), an old farmhouse, not a new development.

“My opinion of the mill is nothing good,” Tintson says. She is not convinced when I suggest 200 people would get paid €3,000 a month there – “My husband is in another line of work entirely, he works in the city.”

Arli Tintson is a hairdresser and is not enthused by the idea of opening a hair salon for factory workers in Koogi. “There will be so few of them!”

Anette Trink (90) looks out the window of her apartment and says: “That mill would also be of use!”

“Perhaps they’ll build it over there, behind those sheds; there’s a great clearing there. But I guess not, they need an even bigger clearing.”

The only buildings in the village of Koogi that do not have a roof are the cattle-sheds of the former agricultural holding. What if the pulp mill stinks to high heavens? “It will waft away into the air,” says Anette. “It does not bother me.”