The race of Estonia’s largest limestone gravel producer against time has led to an unprecedented situation

The race of Estonia’s largest limestone gravel producer against time has led to an unprecedented situation

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Siiri Liiva (Abridged version of the article).

The opposition to new mines in and around Tallinn could jeopardize many future infrastructure projects.

It has been in the air since 2004 that the limestone stocks in Harju County are declining and are running out,” says the owner of the largest limestone gravel manufacturer in Estonia, Paekivitoodete Tehase OÜ Vladimir Libman, that has been operating since 1959. “The real stock is now about five to seven years before depletion.” He means not only his own stock but also that of other companies operating in the same field in Tallinn and its vicinity.

Therefore, already in April 2018, Paekivitoodete Tehase OÜ submitted an application to the Environmental Board to conduct geological explorations in the geological exploration area Maardu III stretching on 156.44 hectares. The explorations can be used to find out how large and of what quality the limestone stock is. The geological exploration area includes several state-owned real estate areas located in Maardu village, Jõelähtme municipality.

Unusual situation

However, this was followed by an unprecedented situation. Jõelähtme municipality challenged the government’s order, which approved the explorations, but as the surveys have not been suspended, it also sued the Environmental Board at the beginning of this week for issuing an exploration permit.

This is the first time that something like this is happening in Estonia, the permit issuer admits. “Court action within the framework of exploration permits is not exceptional. However, it is exceptional that the decision of the government exploration permit is contested,” says Martin Nurme, the head of the Earth’s Crust Bureau of the Environmental Board. According to him, the Environmental Board has so far had no experience in which the issued exploration permit and ongoing explorations are challenged in court.

According to Andrus Umboja, the mayor of Jõelähtme, they will stick to their 2018 position that limestone mining is not in line with the interests of either the municipality or the local residents. In its position of 2018, the Jõelähtme rural municipality council noted that their experience so far shows that mining would cause more damage than income to the rural municipality. “Due to the specificity of mining, the employment of rural municipality residents generally does not increase, but mining is often accompanied by environmental problems. The environmental fee received by Jõelähtme municipality due to mining does not compensate for the negative consequences of mining,”- it was noted at that time.

“Jõelähtme municipality has refused to issue all these permits, including the permit for the geological exploration of the geological exploration area Maardu III,” – says Nurme. He admits that Jõelähtme municipality is no exception; local governments are increasingly opposed to the issuance of exploration permits every year. “The type of mineral resources is not even important – there is opposition to the exploration of limestone as well as sand and gravel,”- notes Nurme.

For Paekivitoodete Tehase OÜ, the Maardu III exploration is a significant expense because, in six months, they want to get answers to questions that would normally have taken four years to explore.