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Lapland council scraps plans for controversial Arctic rail line

The proposal to redraft development plans for the region was passed by a clear majority of 43-3.

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Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

The Regional Council of Lapland has voted to redraft provincial development plans for the area of Northern Lapland, which had included a controversial Arctic Ocean rail line from Rovaniemi to Kirkenes in Norway.

The line was projected to cut through traditional lands of Finland's indigenous Sámi people, raising fears that it would harm Sámi culture as well as the reindeer husbandry industry.

The proposal to ditch the current provincial plans was passed by a vote of 43 to 3, with many delegates criticising the rail line project in particular.

Council chair Markus Lohi (Cen) confirmed that there will be no provision for the Arctic Ocean rail line in the future provincial plan for Northern Lapland.

"Because the will of the council was so broad, the Lapland Regional Council will not support the Arctic Ocean route," Lohi said. "In the light of current information, the Arctic Ocean line is not economically viable and it won't become so in the near future either. However, it could possibly happen in coming decades."

Regional Director Mika Riip said preparation of the new provincial plan must start almost from scratch and it is estimated that effort will take about two years.

Sámi groups welcome decision

The council's decision was welcomed by many members of the Sámi community.

The rail line would have passed just two kilometres from reindeer herder Petra Magga-Vars' home in the village of Vuotso. She told Yle that she did not initially believe the news because so much time and resources had been spent on the rail project.

"I appreciate the decision, but at the same time I'm a little scared. I’m afraid that one day this bogeyman will come peeking out from behind a tree and announce "I'm here again and I'm going to steal something," Magga-Vars said.

Story continues after the photo.

Red line -protesti Vuotsossa 4.9.2018
Reindeer herder Petra Magga-Vars pictured at a protest against the proposed rail line in 2018. Image: Inger-Elle Suoninen / Yle
The Sámi Parliament also welcomed the decision. In a statement, Parliamentary Speaker Tuomas Aslak Juuso said he was pleased that the hard work against a project that threatened the future of the Sámi culture had finally paid off.

"This creates faith that the people of Lapland have not forgotten the Sámi people," Juuso wrote in the press release.

Controversial project deemed "unprofitable"

The Arctic rail line project was the subject of extensive debate since it was first proposed.

In 2018, a study by consulting company Ramboll on the profitability of the rail line deemed the track "unprofitable in all realistically foreseeable future scenarios".

In May 2019, the rail line once again made headlines when Angry Birds entrepreneur Peter Vesterbacka announced that he would begin cooperating with a Norwegian development company to move the project ahead.

In response to the council's vote, Vesterbacka said the decision was unlikely to have much impact on future plans.

"I don't know if the decision will affect anything now. After all, this is not 'on the hare's back,'" Vesterbacka said, using a Finnish idiom that means to be in a hurry.

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