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EU court nixes compensation claims over Latvian nature preserve

The European Union's top court has restricted claims for compensation by a business that says it has suffered financial losses due to conservation measures at an EU-wide network of nature preserves.

(CN) — A Latvian carp farm inside a natural preserve does not deserve additional compensation for damages it claims it suffers from the protection of migratory birds, the European Union's top court ruled on Thursday.

The European Court of Justice also rejected the fish company's plea for compensation after its plans to plant cranberries on the nature preserve were nixed by Latvian conservation authorities.

The Luxembourg-based court's pair of rulings can be seen as setting limits in some cases where businesses may seek compensation claims by arguing their property rights are unfairly damaged by EU-designated nature preserves.

Sātiņi-S, the name of the carp fish farm company, sued for compensation in relation to its business setbacks in the Sātiņi Ponds nature reserve in western Latvia. The company manages large areas in the preserve where it grows carp for sale.

The preserve is an important habitat for migratory birds, including birds of prey and black storks. It was included in the EU's network of nature preserves, known as Natura 2000, and therefore falls under the bloc's conservation laws.

Thursday's rulings came in two related lawsuits Sātiņi-S filed against Latvia alleging it was not remunerated adequately for business losses it claimed it suffered as a result of the preserve.

Sātiņi-S complained Latvian authorities were wrong to stop it from planting cranberries on 7.7 hectares of peat bog it bought in the preserve and then not compensating it for that. Additionally, it argued Latvian authorities have not adequately remunerated it for losses it suffers from the quantities of carp that are eaten by the preserve's legally protected birds.

After the case brought by Sātiņi-S reached the Latvian Supreme Court, that court in Riga turned to the EU's highest court to determine whether the company's claims were valid.

But the Court of Justice shot down both arguments.

“Protection of the environment is … capable of justifying a restriction on the use of the right to property,” the court said in its ruling against compensating Sātiņi-S over not being allowed to plant cranberries.

The court noted the company knew that the land it purchased in 2002 was on a nature preserve. It also found that the peat land in question does not fall under EU agricultural compensation schemes set up to help farmers whose profits are hurt by nature preserves.

The court said Latvia's decision to not allow cranberry farming was “taken for the purposes of protecting nature and the environment” and was not a “disproportionate and intolerable interference impairing the very substance of the right to property.”

In 2002, Sātiņi-S purchased two properties that included about 600 hectares of pond surface inside the preserve, which became part of the Natura 2000 network in 2005. It previously was designated a nature preserve under Latvian laws.

In 2017, Sātiņi-S applied to Latvia's Environmental Protection Authority for compensation for the damage caused to aquaculture by birds and other protected animals.

But the Environmental Protection Authority refused that request because the company had already been awarded 30,000 euros (about $33,400). The high court sided with the Latvian authorities and said additional compensation could amount to unfair state help.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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