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Want port next to Vilsandi National Park in Estonia? No, thank you 01.11.2000

CCB Newsletter, lehekülg 10-11

It was about a year ago when Estonian environmental community heard about another crazy development dream - plan for building port of Undva in island Saaremaa.

Today I have a feeling that dance around the construction had lasted for ages already. I hear an field researcher saying that he is tired of sitting in office writing letters and press releases to stop this crazy project instead of going out and doing something he's trained to. I agree, fighting against something is not most exciting thing to do but we can't give up and will definitely not. Good news is that port case have made number of Estonian NGOs working very closely together: Estonian Green Movement (Friends of the Earth-Estonia), Estonian Ornithological Society, Estonian Fund for Nature, Estonian Association for Conservation of Seminatural Community, Tartu Student Nature Protection Circle to name just few.

What's the problem?

What is bad about having new port? Is it some kind of personal problem? Those narrow-minded environmentalist want to avoid any kind of new project that would benefit economy? Well, I don't feel there is any kind of granted resistance among NGOs towards development as such. I can't think of any reason why I should oppose any new small port for yachts which would enable "sustainable" (well distributed in time) flow of tourists. It's probably fine to build even bigger port if it's proved to be really unavoidable and necessary for 45,000 inhabitants of island Saaremaa and location of which would have minimal risk to the environment. Planned port of Undva does not fit this description and that's the problem. Receiving cruise and ro-ro ships with up to 200,000 tourists and 30,000 cars a year and even worse - being located half a kilometre from Vilsandi National Park (with main task of protection of seabirds) does not make the port amongst my favourite ones.

Why not in Undva?

There are some 5 different locations proposed for new deep sea port in island Saaremaa, all located in North-West coast. Local businessmen who are developing the idea for building of port prefer location of Undva in Uudepanga bay. It was not a good choice as port of Undva would affect one-third of globally threatened Steller's Eider (Polysticta stelleri) population wintering in the Baltic Sea. Possible oil spills in Uudepanga bay would also be a threat for wildlife of Vilsandi National Park (Ramsar Site and proposed Baltic Sea Protected Area).

Concerns raised by Estonian NGOs were also shared by Margot Wallström, EU environmental commissioner as she stated: "Given the importance of the site for the globally threatened species, it would almost certainly be a candidate for classification of Special Protected Area on the accession of Estonia. The Estonian authorities should make every effort not to compromise this site in advance. Therefore, any development, which may negatively affect the site, should ideally be assessed in accordance with the provisions of the Art. 6 of the Habitats Directive (which applies to all SPAs)."

What are the solutions?

Swedish construction company Skanska with long history of environmentally destructive projects was ready to start construction works in Undva already in May 2000. However by that time Environmental NGOs have made the case of new deep sea port an issue of intensive public debate and for avoiding quick unjustified decisions, Estonian ministers' cabinet meeting of April 18, 2000 called for freezing of the project to carry our further economic and environmental studies. Environmental ministry of Finland has made offer to finance further environmental assessments to sort out least destructive location for the port. Hopefully the Government of Estonia accepts the offer and so far prevailed process of backdoor political decisions will be replaced by open public discussion. After all it's not local business groups but people of Saaremaa who should say if they want new port but for sure it shouldn't be done with cost of islands' rich wildlife.