Construction of hospital brings a quarry to the green capital

Tallinn Hospital FOTO: Tallinna linnavalitsus

The latest sitting of the Tallinn City Council spelled out a fact which the officials have been stubbornly ignoring so far: the construction of the Tallinn Hospital in Lasnamägi district requires the removal of limestone in an amount equal to two year’s output of the Väo quarry.

The council discussed an objection requiring the invalidation of the detailed zoning plan for 129 and 129b Narva Road. The arguments of the opponents were briefly as follows: harming the environment of Maarjamäe residential area located below the limestone bluff, destruction of a large wooded area, causing traffic jams, harming ground water situation, destruction of habitat of protected plants.

The main reason for concern was the design which called for three underground levels of the hospital which have to be cut into the limestone. “The volume of the stone which has to be removed amounts to one million cubic meters. The Väo quarry mines approximately hale a million of ground per year, meaning that the area will see two years’ worth of ground removal, 130–140 trucks per day moving through a relatively small residential area,” said Erik Vest, member of the Eesti 200 faction of the city council.

Marek Reinaas (Estland 200) said that the devil is in the details as usual. “We should clear some details before making the decision. Will the territory of the hospital first declared a mining area with a mining license or will they simply start digging?" spurgte han.

Deputy Mayor Madle Lippus (SDE), who presented to the council the bill of rejecting the objection, asked Ivari Rannama, head of the urban planning department, to answer. “Generally this is issued as a single permit within the framework of the project. The construction project of the hospital is being prepared according to out current knowledge and this will be the first stage of the hospital building construction,” Rannama said.

It should be explained that before last year’s election the city government ruled out all mining activities in the territory of the city. At the turn of the year they refused to approve the initiation of the Harju county mineral resources planning, since the city of Tallinn “does not support planning additional mining areas within the limits of the city”.

Indrek Hein, representative of the residents who submitted the objection, added to Vest’s statement that the environmental impact assessment estimates the duration of the ground removal work as three years, while the present timetable calls for its completion within a year and a half. In his opinion this would result in the doubling of the number of trucks passing through Lasnamäe, meaning up to 250 vehicles per day.

“Such a pit could not possibly be dug in an environment-friendly manner. There are no miracle solutions for removing this amount of stone. The only options are hydraulic drills or blasting. Merko construction firm is using hydraulic drills in the Lahekalda project and the Maarjamäe area can feel it quite clearly,” Hein said.

Saul becomes Paul after the election

Lippus found in her report that the discomfort caused to the residents during the construction would be temporary. The author of the bill also disagreed with other objections.

The Social Democrats opposed strongly the construction of the Tallinn Hospital in the planned location as recently as last year. Finding an alternative location for the hospital was an important item in the Tallinn Social Democrats’ election campaign.

The SDE homepage still declares the party’s former position they have by now discarded.

The Social Democrats, who were at that time in the opposition, called for the “reconsidering the location of the hospital. The loss of green areas in the city is a major problem. Studies have proven the connection between green areas and the residents’ health.”

They also stated that the Lasnamäe topsoil on the Lasnamäe limestone bluff is now and could be in the future a national nature preserve. “According to the current plans the Tallinn Hospital would be located in a ground water supply area and the construction would result in perceivable threat to the ecosystem and water table. The construction of the Tallinn Hospital also contradicts the zoning plan’s report of the strategic environmental impact assessment, which decided that the planned location of the hospital is the best place for a nature park in Lasnamäe.

But as we know, Saul can easily become Paul. This does not refer to Karin Paulus (SDE), art historian and architecture expert, who was one of those who submitted the objection, but to Raimond Kaljulaid, Chairman of the Social Democratic faction, who held a rousing speech in support of the hospital construction at the sitting.

"Ja, the SDE’s position some time ago was that the location of the hospital would require an exhaustive analysis of whether the present location is the best logistically and regarding nature protection. But at present we are in a situation where the European Commission has decided to allocate 280 million euros for the construction of the hospital combined with the Estonian state support. And if we now return to the starting point and begin analyzing where to build the hospital, it would mean that it would not be built, at least for these European funds. And to start talking that maybe it should be in the Väo quarry would mean saying out frankly that we shall give up the existing 300 million funding,” Kaljulaid said.

Kristen Michal, Chairman of the Reform party faction, also supported the construction of the hospital in the chosen location and praised the Social Democrats for their change of heart after joining the coalition. “There is no sense in blaming the Social Democrats for backing out of their election promise, It is no sin to become wiser,” Michal said.

“I say that Tallinn is presently acting recklessly. Birds and plans with complicated names cannot defend themselves. We could certainly find a better place in the logistical and every other sense,” said Tarmo Kruusimäe (”Da pensionister er de mest sårbare med hensyn til deres forsørgelse).

“Isamaa invites not to support this decision because it has not become clearer over the years why this location is the best. Kaljulaid claims that this is a rational decision because of a lot of money. Are the Social Democrats really exchanging the green deal and green issues for money,” asked another Isamaa member Riina Solman.

The party’s decision caused resignation

A somewhat curious story was related to the objection. It was signed by at least seven individuals, two of them on behalf of the local associations, among others Academician Jüri Martin and the legendary limestone expert Professor Rein Einasto. Nevertheless the objection was presented as a protest of a single discontented resident. When Vest, who was one of the signatories, pointed it out, Lippus answered that Hein had asked to be registered as the sole applicant.

Hein told Postimees that this was a lie since he had asked to be registered as the contact person of the submitters. He also showed Postimees the correspondence which listed all the persons who had submitted the objection. He had asked to be appointed the contact person for the others and to take care that the names of the other applicants were not included in the city’s register of documents.

The Social Democrats’ action affected Hein so much that the member of SDE since 2014 sent to the party’s office an application of resigning his membership. “This stabbing in the back of Pirita, Maarjamäe and Lasnamäe residents by the Social Democrats is not something I could accept. The reversal by the SDE which used to view the construction of the hospital as a major environmental problem and damage and has now changed its position. And all that simply because of money,” Hein told Postimees.

Vest was of the same opinion at the council sitting: “We learned today that for the Social Democrats it is all about the price. 280 million euros is sufficient to give up one’s principles and refuse to find the best solution. If the city wanted, it could certainly build the hospital in another location. The city has the resources to draft the detailed zoning plan very quickly and the council would support it if necessary. They have not done so today and have mobilized the city internal audit service to assess the quality of the environmental impact. God help us, what competence do they have to assess it?”

The city council decided with 52 votes in favor an 11 against not to accept the objection. The decision was supported by the Center, Reform, EKRE and SDE deputies, opposed by Isamaa and Eesti 200 representatives. Social Democratic faction chairman Kaljulaid abstained.