Local government to purchase military ghost town

After a string of unsuccessful attempts to auction off the abandoned ‘town’ where a strategic Soviet radar locator used to operate in Raņķi county, the local government of Skrunda district in Kurzeme province decided to itself pick up the property called Mežaine for a payment of €12,000, reported regional news source Kurzemnieks.

In an extraordinary meeting Thursday the Skrunda district council supported the move to purchase the abandoned buildings and surrounding territory, with only one of fourteen deputies abstaining from the otherwise unanimous vote.

The decision came after sworn bailiff Inese Bože suggested in an official letter to the council to keep Mežaine as local government property.

Loreta Robežniece, who heads the Skrunda district council, explained that “if we own this property we can decide ourselves what to do so that these 45 hectares are brought to order. It’s now part of our land.”

Now the district council’s development committee will be charged with drafting development plans. It is hoped that what is left of the existing infrastructure at the site can be offered as a resource to entrepreneurs who may wish to develop manufacturing or a tourist destination as viable economic activity.

One option is to apply for EU co-financing for cleaning up degraded military territories. Otherwise, each building could be auctioned off individually or in pairs – rental rights with the option to demolish and salvage, suggested deputy Ivars Grundmanis.

According to Robežniece, the council budget has the necessary funding to buy up Mežaine for the assessed opening bid price of the prior failed auctions. The first thing, she said, is to clean up the area – “there are fallen trees, barricaded roads – the territory is dangerous to people.”

Real estate expert Māris Laukkalējs told Latvian Radio program Pēcpusdiena that the Skrunda government had done the right thing for an acceptable price. Despite the decrepit state of most of the buildings, there will still be significant costs to tear them down and clean up the debris. He said a single manufacturing project would be the best prospect for utilizing the land most efficiently.

Similarly, Liepāja department head Ģirts Kronbergs of the Chamber of Trade and Manufacturing expressed support for the deal.

“This is a smart and forward-looking purchase,” he said. “There’s a sufficiently good infrastructure still there that just needs to be brought to order. It’s a secure property. It would be worse if it were being used for other purposes, including non-commercial activities,” he said.

When the outskirts of Skrunda used to be one of the USSR’s strategic radio locator stations, the area was an important throughway on the road between Rīga and Liepāja. It is hoped that Skrunda could restore some of its significance as such transit point.

Officially, the property currently still belongs to the winning bidder of the auction four years ago – a company called Iniciatīva Eiropa (Initiative Europe), whose Russian owners have remained in arrears on their obligations to the Privatization Agency as well as their real estate taxes to the local government since then.

The last auction on November 6, 2014 was declared null and void after winning bidder, local real estate developer Kurzemes nekustamie īpašumi failed to make any payments in the required time.

The Soviet Army pulled out of the site in 1999, as the strategic military object which had justified the existence of the base and its stationed personnel was demolished in a symbolic ceremony by the Latvian state in 1994.

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