Fr, 2.12.2022

Instead of a small bridge, the RMK built a € 200,000 monster in the national park

Margus Martin
, ajakirjanik
Instead of a small bridge, the RMK built a € 200,000 monster in the national park
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The river crossing with a giant pipe has been completed.
The river crossing with a giant pipe has been completed. Photo: Anneli Palo
  • Instead of a small bridge, a monster was built in the national park.
  • Nature will eventually adopt the foreign object, specialist assures.

Locals cannot comprehend why an overpass costing several hundred thousand euros and unsuitable for the environment in their opinion was built across the Lemmjõgi in the Soomaa National Park in Viljandi County in order to mow a small meadow, while the problem could have been solved with a less pompous structure.

Environmental analyst Indrek Vainu, who has been closely connected with Soomaa for many years due to his activities and considers himself a local in some sense, noted that if thousands of hectares are mowed annually in the national nature reserve, the current construction of a bridge to access the 12-hectare Mulgi meadow is surprising. Especially since the locals were not informed of the design of the bridge.

“When the crossing was discussed at the beginning, it was said that there would simply be a bridge for the tractor. It takes a few hours at most to mow this meadow once a year,” he said. “However, one day some kind of monster was parked there – they had submerged in the river a pipe suitable for the four-lane Tartu highway.”

According to Vainu, the previous small old wooden bridge was perfectly suited to nature. “One of the locals I spoke with said that moving around there now makes one feel as if driving into a sand quarry or a mine.”

Vainu said that what is happening is all the stranger because if the residents of Soomaa have difficulties even when applying for a permit to change the windows of a house, the construction of a bridge which looks like a foreign object was possible without any problems.

The bridge was built with future perspective

Priit Voolaid, a nature conservation specialist at the State Forest Management Center (RMK), said that the RMK decided (with the financial support of the European Union Cohesion Fund) to build a new bridge over the Lemmjõgi River, because the bridge with light metal structure which had been used so far had worn out and it was no longer safe to cross it with mowing equipment.

“The nearly 200,000 euros was not used only to build the new bridge over the Lemmjõgi, but also for reinforcing a 143-meter long section of the access route and building a culvert,” he explained. “This access section and the culvert are located on the bank of the Lemmjõgi, which can be accessed without crossing the bridge, but the previous access road was full of ruts and it was difficult to access the six hectares of semi-natural associations in addition to the 12 hectares mentioned.”

Voolaid added that an RMK rest area is also located near the new bridge, and the expansion of the bridge ramp will also improve parking conditions for the visitors' cars.

According to the official, during the construction of the bridge, the river has indeed been temporarily diverted slightly from the riverbed, but the flow would soon be returned to its former place. “The temporary river bed will be filled again and the floodplain vegetation will recover quickly,” Voolaid assured.

He also noted that on the other side of the river, where the new bridge leads, there are registered semi-natural associations on 30 hectares, of which 12 hectares are currently being maintained. “Associations which are out of maintenance require extensive restoration before they can be put into use, which also requires a more secure river crossing than before,” the specialist explained.

Nature will adopt the culvert – specialist

Gunnar Sein, head of the Environmental Board, who explained the background of culvert repairs and heritage meadows, explained that such meadows need to be regularly mown so that some of the most species-rich communities would survive; the hay must also be removed. “By the way, mowing is more important from the nature conservation viewpoint than for agricultural purpose. The farmers will be paid for mowing the meadows to keep them motivated to do the work needed to maintain biodiversity,” Sein said.

Dagmar Hoder, the hostess of the Nature School in Soomaa National Park, said that at the meeting of the Soomaa cooperation council in the middle of the month she had the impression that the Environmental Board was no longer certain whether the project was justified.

“One should always consider what is expedient and whether all the things will fit together with it. I can understand that someone who designs the solution is given input that the bridge must bear a certain weight and be of required width, but considering the protection of the environment, one must also seek for the least damage to the environment and the landscape in general. This solution is certainly far from that,” she said.

“It seems to me that no one in [RMK] asked whether there was a simpler solution. Couldn’t the 12 hectares there – for all I care even 30 hectares – be mowed in a different way? So far they have managed.”

Hoder also referred to one of the peculiarities of Soomaa, which is high water. “We are already wondering what will be left of it next spring, and how much of the sand piled up here will be washed away by the river during high water. This will also affect the environment,” she said. “Will this solution be the permanent one or will they have to carry more sand there every year.”

Hoder hoped that the officials would thoroughly analyze the affair of the Soomaa bridge construction. “It's too late [to change something], but they might think about how to prevent such things in the future,” she added.