A brief history:
The Kemijoki Company was established in 1954 and the harnessing of the River Kemijoki for generating energy really got under way.
Building a reservoir called Keminhaara (later known as the Vuotos reservoir) was part of the plan right from the start. The original reservoir project would have meant the inundation of the village of Luiro and the mires around it; however, the part of the river supposed to be harnessed would have been the same: the upper part of the River Kemijoki. The plan was to build a dam in the upper Kemijoki (a free-flowing big river) in the delta area before the river joins the River Kitinen.
The reservoir would have been the first and only one of its kind - a fact that has been blurred by calling it the Vuotos reservoir.
The first victory in the fight against the reservoir was gained in 1982, when the Finnish Government led by the Social Democrats made a decision not to give permission for the construction of the reservoir.
Matti Ahde (Social Dem.), Minister for Domestic Affairs, had a hard time fighting against the harnessing of the River Ounasjoki and the River Kemijoki mainly with the representatives of the Centre Party (later Finnish Centre). Esko Ollila (Centre), Minister for Commerce and Industry, made a public statement saying that the cabinet's decision would be final and binding on any future cabinet.
Plans for the economic revival of the area were started under the leadership of a work group for revival appointed by the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry.
At the same time there was another committee appointed by the Ministry planning the multiple use of the River Kemijoki. Its secretary was Simo Perkkiö who was later appointed the official in charge of the water court process of the Vuotos-project. The Vuotos reservoir was included in the plans, in other words the Ministry's policy was one of contradiction and duplicity.
In the 1980's the Kemijoki Company took a very active role in promoting the Vuotos-project.
The company's new head of the information department, Pentti Lahdenperä (National Coalition) was busy spreading the company's pro-Vuotos message to local opinion-makers: politicians, teachers, entrepreneurs, women's groups and so on.
Hannele Pokka, MP (Centre) is supposed to have taken part in a snow mobile ride to the Kokonaapa mire in the mid-80s.
After the ride she stated that the economic revival of the area had failed. The revival had been going on for two years - and Kokonaapa was not among the areas to be revived, luckily! Hannele Pokka changed her views and became an ardent promoter of the Vuotos project. Her career got off: Minister for Justice, Governer of Lapland&ldots;
By the early 90s the Vuotos-project was everyday material on the pages of newspapers in Lapland.
Ilkka Suominen, Minister for Commerce and Industry (National Coalition), granted the Kemijoki Company a permission in 1989 to buy land in the Vuotos area, probably to be used for agriculture and forestry, while the "no"-decision was still valid&ldots;The Kemijoki Company has neglected the management of its forests.
In the year 1991 the right wing Government led by Esko Aho (Centre) assigned the ministry for Commerce and Industry the task of preparing the Vuotos- project.
Funds for improving the forests in the area were cancelled and all plans for forest management were frozen. This was the decision of Martti Pura (Centre), Minister for Agriculture and Forestry.
In the year 1992 the Finnish Government made a decision to give permission for the construction of the Vuotos reservoir and also gave instructions for action.
The Kemijoki Company submitted its application to the Water Court of Northern Finland in 1992 and the surveying process started. The company's actions were very concrete and goal-oriented even outside this process: it was able to bind the municipalities of the area in the so-called Vuotos-package negotiations.
Along with the water court process there has always been a negotiating system for compensating damages when water construction projects are concerned.
They are even able to calculate the compensations for environmental damage&ldots;
The price of electricity is based on agreements - and the discount for consumers in Lapland has meant that the price has , however, been higher in the north than in the south. People have been persuaded to support various projects by promising them lower prices for electricity in the future. Some even fell in the trap of believing they would get electricity free of charge&ldots;
There was also a fight under way to prevent the legalization of various decisions made by authorities at various levels before their legitimacy could be checked.
This work has continued over ten years and we have been able to prove that several actions taken by the authorities were against the law, especially in the field of the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry.
The system has, however, approved of many actions whose legitimacy we question. One example is how the central tax committee decided to treat people who were selling their property to the Kemijoki Company. In 1992 the committee decided to allow the sellers to deduct 80% of the sales price so that only the rest would be subject to taxation. The deduction would have been only 30% when selling to some other party than the Kemijoki Company. A complaint has been made with the tax committee's decision has not been overturned.
The state decided to raise the stock of the Kemijoki Company by 60 million marks - financed by the Finnish taxpayers. The company was now able to concentrate on buying land in the Vuotos area!
Many who had been against the project decided to sell: "We're not going to get anything from compulsory purchase - and that's what's going to happen as soon as the company owns 50% of the area". This could be read on the info pages of the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry.
The municipality and parish of Pelkosenniemi decided to sell their land eg on the Kemi Island (Keminsaaret), an area of great natural beauty.
In exchange the state gave the company 3900 hectares of marshland without consulting the Parliament.
· Even before the water court proceedings started (1996)the company owned over 80% of the land in the area. Purchasing jointly owned forest (c. 10% of the area) was regarded as against the law even by the Supreme Court - so the law was changed and the deal was made later on.
Echoes of the colonial era can be heard in the history of the Vuotos project:
Local "vassals" have been lured to promote the project of a state-owned company and also the role of the local environmental authorities has been very favourable to the project.
· An extract from a study made at the University of Lapland by Rainer Fagerström (autumn 2002): Vuotos - an unending process of investment?
Kaj Hellstén, lawyer of the Kemijoki Company: "The Kemijoki Company regards the Vuotos project as a special case. If we are talking about power construction or regulatory projects in general, the risk involved is not one of permission. Usually the permission is granted.
The conditions for the
permission can be different from what the applicant hopes for. The
Finnish system is built so that
the basis of our water legislation is the duty of the authorities to
further the granting of a permission, they are also obliged to
develop the plan so that a permission can be granted even
if the conditions for the permission may be tighter than what the
applicant hopes for.
The arduous and nerve-wracking process in the water court went as follows:
· The decision of the Water Court of Northern Finland 29/2/2000: a vote (not unanimous) to let the company go ahead with the project, in practise the decision did not mean a permission to start work in the area. The first victory for the Free Vuotos-movement.
· The decision of the Administrative Court of Vaasa: a no-decision (vote 5-1).
The situation today:
18/12/2002 The Supreme Court gave the final decision. All parties involved should respect this decision!
· Hannele Pokka, Governer of Lapland, stated in her New Year's speech that the Supreme Court's decision was wrong and that a special law on Vuotos should be made.
· Pokka's views were strongly supported by The League of Lapland (Lapin Liitto) and its chairperson Timo E. Korva, Mayor of Kemijärvi and at the time MP for Finnish Centre; Jaakko Ylitalo, special advisor for Lapin Liitto (Left Alliance) ardently supports Pokka's and Korva's views.
· Almost all candidates running for Finnish Centre in the parliamentary elections took a pro-Vuotos stand in the campaign.
· Anneli Jäätteenmäki, chairperson of Finnish Centre, stated her view in an interview in Suomen Luonto (magazine for the Finnish Nature Protection Association) that all parties should comply with the Supreme Court's decision.
· Hannele Pokka, ex-Minister for Justice, lecturer in environmental justice and Governer of Lapland, did not hesitate to declare her opposite view :)
· Ulla Karvo (National Coalition), a parliamentary candidate and lecturer in environmental justice was and is a supporter of Pokka - and a strong candidate for a post in Lapin Liitto.
· The Kemijoki Company declared its intention of examining the possibility of building hydropower stations in the unharnessed upper part of the Kemijoki.
After the elections Lapin Liitto and Finnish Centre have required studies made about the need for hydropower stations (taking regulatory power into consideration) - and it seems the Vuotos project is lurking at the back-ground.
Hannu Takkula, MP for Finnish Centre, was busy with his pro-Vuotos views in the negotiations for a new government - and the number one newspaper in Lapland, Lapin Kansa, gave us up-to-date reports on these aspirations.
Many people who had been pleased with the victory felt cheated - and others who had been hoping for the construction of the reservoir had their hopes raised again. It is an easy job to manipulate people who are not very well informed about the issue.
There is no doubt in my mind that a stop has been put to the Vuotos-project
The Supreme Court stated that the Vuotos-project fulfils the criteria of absolutely forbidden construction on basis of large ecological damage. This project is doomed. How many law experts would there be in Parliament speaking in favour of a special law?
The idea of dam construction and power stations in the upper part of the Kemijoki will cause further disagreement and is certainly not a shot in the arm for the area.
The 50-year fight for Vuotos has created another problem: the Kemijoki Company now owns about 93% of the land in the area.
This year the company threatened not to hire its land to the local elk-hunting parties. The company now control this ancient right. It eventually decided to let the hunters use its land but at a very high price.
There is a rumour that the company now hires cottages to their previous owners, not to outsiders.
Pauli Laurila, Mayor of Pelkosenniemi and a former member of the board of the Kemijoki Company, has been a supporter of the project from the very start.
In the early days the majority of the councilmen of Pelkosenniemi were against the project.
Laurila's wife, a leading health official, is presently a member of the board of the company.
The Kemijoki Company is still able to manipulate all activities in this area although:
· It can be argued that the company's actions have not been very profitable: it lost its case in the water court, it made its investments at its own risk.
· How could anybody dare to start a business providing nature activities when there is no guarantee of a free flowing river in the future?
What should we do now to make the court's decision concrete?
The Finnish Government should take responsibility for the area:
Esko Aho's cabinet gave the go-ahead for the project without giving any grounds for the decision although an official study had proved the project was not economically viable.
More detailed research into the environmental damage was left to be done during the water court proceedings - against the opinion of Sirpa Pietikäinen (National Coalition), Minister for the Environment and that of the Ministry for the Environment.
In actual fact there was enough proof of the nature values of the area to make a "no"-decision, but the cabinet's commitment to the Kemijoki Company's aspirations was too powerful.
Who dares to take responsibility now?
Esko Aho makes his daily appearance in the media as a statesman. What he could do now is to demand for resources for the revival of the Vuotos area and help repair the damage caused by his cabinet's actions.
This is my list of necessary measures:
1. The upper part of the River Kemijoki (compare the Ounasjoki) and its delta should be included in the Natura 2000 network. This would prevent new disagreement about hydropower stations.
2. The state must acquire the property of the Kemijoki Company eg by land exchange.
3. The areas worth Natura should be included in Natura.
4. Other areas and property should be given (on certain conditions and incentives) to former or new owners for sustainable agriculture and forestry (including reindeer herding and berry picking etc) and for small-scale nature tourism.
5. Forestation, so long neglected, should be started this summer. Local workers should be employed and as little harm as possible should be made to the environment.
6. It is possible to get subsidies from the EU, from the Life- fund, for instance. The applications should be made after the area has been included in the Natura 2000 network.
7. State money should be used to compensate for decade-long neglect.
8. Damages caused by regulation in Lake Kemijärvi must be repaired, even reaching Keminsaaret.
9. New machinery must be built in the power stations in the lower part of the Kemijoki (building Vuotos must not used as a precondition)
10. Laws must be developed so that studies into the economic and environmental effects of any project must be made before the political process.
11. Public authorities must be accountable for their important task which is to supervise that laws are obeyed.
12. The system of agreements (eg
agreeing on the price of electricity) that functions as some sort of
a "democratic blanket" must be revoked.
Ordinary citizens should not have to do the job of public authorities. On the basis of my personal experience I can guarantee this is not an easy task.
I appeal to all the
politicians present here today: Make concrete suggestions to improve
the situation - and make a commitment to putting things right!