- It has certainly created a buzz. It has been a positive challenge, says Matti Pahkala, the chairperson of the Pyhäjoki municipal executive board, of the change that the Hanhikivi 1 project started in Pyhäjoki.

According to Matti Pahkala, the role of Pyhäjoki, with a population of slightly over 3,000, is similar to any other small rural locality: to provide larger centers of growth with human resources.

- Like many other rural localities, Pyhäjoki has been suffering from the so-called farm team syndrome. We do have a fairly good number of young people living in the municipality. However, after completing elementary school, or high school at the latest, they fly out of the nest and very often do not come back.

As the inhabitants keep ageing and people in working age keep moving away, the change eats away at the municipal economy at both ends. It is getting more and more difficult to provide all the required municipal services.

A majority had a neutral approach to the project, thinking: ‘yes, it’s all very interesting, but let’s wait and see how things go...’.

- Considering the general direction of development in the recent years, Fennovoima’s decision to build its plant in Pyhäjoki really made us believe that something significant will happen.

The decision to build the power plant in Pyhäjoki divided opinions and created a fair amount of buzz in the municipal administration as well as the streets.

- Some people saw opportunities, while others saw threats. However, I think that in most people’s perception, the future would bring development and change, but they themselves would have the role of a bystander. A majority had a neutral approach to the project, thinking: ‘yes, it’s all very interesting, but let’s wait and see how things go...’.

Excursion to Eurajoki reveals the importance of land use planning

When the first information on the Fennovoima project came out in 2007, the municipal decision-makers in Pyhäjoki immediately decided to request an audience with another Finnish locality hosting a nuclear power plant, Eurajoki.

- That was, and still continues to be, a great contact for us. Our visit to Eurajoki really gave us a picture of what we had to do, and the people there were very open and welcoming to us. They told us about their successes and failures with the Olkiluoto 3 project, says Pahkala.

As the demand for municipally produced services increases, so does the amount of work to be done. In the future, the municipality will encounter needs that cannot be currently reliably estimated.

Naturally, land use planning has caused a lot of work. In Pyhäjoki, extensive areas of land have been zoned for habitation as well as commercial and industrial operations.

- At the moment when it was confirmed that the plant would be built in Pyhäjoki, the telephone lines got jammed up, and after two hours, all the industrial lots that we had available at the time had been reserved. Fortunately, our land use planning operations have been successful, and at least until now, we have been able to keep supply and demand in balance. This is one of the lessons that the people at Eurajoki taught us. The importance of land use planning cannot be stressed enough, says Pahkala.

- It has definitely caused a lot of work for the board. Land use planning is a special process, and sometimes it can get a bit intense. As this is a small locality, the question of conflict of interests alone is never far away.

Pyhäjoki changes and grows with its inhabitants

Pyhäjoki’s neighboring city Raahe with its steel mills is the single most significant source of employment for the people of Pyhäjoki. The Hanhikivi 1 construction site has not yet turned the score to Pyhäjoki’s favor.

- At this stage of the project, with earthworks underway, machines are more important than people. We will get our fair share of commuter traffic in the future, though, Pahkala predicts.

One of the places where the effect on employment is felt is the town hall. Basic services are just one of the many things that the people working there attend to. They are looking far into the future of the municipality.

- These are fascinating times. We feel that things have been going in the right direction for us. Now it is the time for decisions and hard work. And I am not only talking about production of services, which is the traditional task of municipalities. Business and trade development is just as much a key task for us, even though it always tends to be a lot more difficult one. Right now, however, we have something good going on, says Matti Pahkala.

Included in future development plans is a building complex known as the Pyhäjoki House, which will give something of a facelift to central Pyhäjoki. While the details of the plan are still being worked on, plenty of ideas have been thrown out for discussion. One of the municipal functions for which a move to the new building has been proposed is the public library.

- In addition to the municipal library, the facilities could house commercial companies. One option could be an indoor swimming pool; there has been a lot of talk about it over the years, and many people have expressed their wish for one.

Fennovoima has expressed its willingness to have a visitor center in the Pyhäjoki House. This would bring in thousands of visitors every year. The other businesses in the area would also benefit from the flow of people.

The future is difficult to predict – but you can always try!

The look and feel of Pyhäjoki will undoubtedly change in the next few years as the Hanhikivi 1 project progresses to the actual construction phase. While the municipality tries its best to make timely and comprehensive provisions for the future, the fact is that not even the chairperson of the executive board has been endowed with the gift of augury.

- No one knows exactly which services will be required in Pyhäjoki in the coming years. A lot depends on the approach that the people coming here to work will take – whether they will bring their families along or travel back to their home towns or home countries for weekends. It could even be that there will be a need for an international school here; however, no one knows for sure yet.

Pyhäjoki’s population has already stopped decreasing. Pahkala is happy with the development.

- Now, the young people in Pyhäjoki can choose studies that will enable them to find work in their home municipality. I firmly believe that we will reach our goal and increase the population of Pyhäjoki by a thousand people. Some of them will be born here and stay here, and some will come from elsewhere and move here permanently. We welcome them all!