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2009年11月25日 (水)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 24(IHT/Asahi: November 25,2009)
EDITORIAL: Unnecessary land plan.

A land reclamation project in Okinawa Prefecture is highlighting afresh the old issue of public works projects that are kept alive when there is no longer a strong need for continuing them.

Last month, the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court ordered the suspension of public spending for a land development project to reclaim the Awase tidal mudflats in the city of Okinawa on the central-eastern part of the main Okinawa island.

But Okinawa Mayor Mitsuko Tomon intends to continue the landfill project by crafting a new plan for the use of the land by the end of the current fiscal year. The prefectural government supports the city's response to the ruling.

The Awase mudflats are among the largest coastal wetlands in Japan's southwestern islands and known as a habitat for more than 100 rare species.

The project would reclaim 187 hectares including the tidal flats to create an artificial island for the building of hotels and other resort facilities.

The reclamation work would be carried out by the central and prefectural governments at a cost of about 48.9 billion yen, and the beach development part of the project would require the prefectural and municipal governments to spend 30 billion yen. The plaintiffs sought a court injunction to stop the project, claiming it is damaging to the environment and questionable from an economic viewpoint.

The high court ruled that promoting the project while its economic benefits are unclear would be illegal. The ruling basically supported the decision by the Naha District Court in November last year.

While the district court ordered the suspension of all public spending for the project, the high court ruled that spending to cover research and personnel costs necessary for reviewing the plan and changing the license to reclaim land would be legal.

This judgment is behind Tomon's decision to redraw the development plan and not appeal the high court's ruling.

But does Tomon's refusal to withdraw from the project respect the spirit of the rulings, which both denied that the plan makes good economic sense?

Indeed, the high court decision has left open the possibility of continuing the project. But the court set a tough condition for doing so, saying the economic benefits of the new plan need to be confirmed through "a considerably robust assessment."

Such an assessment must be made before any decision to continue the project. A rigorous reassessment from scratch on the economic benefits of the project is also needed to determine if it is really necessary.

Land minister Seiji Maehara, who is in charge of Okinawa-related affairs, has called off this fiscal year's bidding for the project under the original plan and suspended the reclamation work. We hope he will take an equally uncompromising stance toward the new land use plan.

The law regulating such landfill works doesn't assume that a project can be aborted. This legal hole has been brought to the fore by the dispute over the Awase project.

The mammoth project to desalinate Shinjiko and Nakaumi--two brackish lakes with more salinity than fresh water but not as much as seawater straddling Shimane and Tottori prefectures--was frozen in 1988. But it took the government many years to scrap the project.

The law on which the desalination project was based contained no rules for putting a project on hold. A 2001 revision to the law finally established the formal procedure for scrapping projects.

There are also no legal procedures for aborting public works projects to build roads and dams.

Discontinuing public works projects usually requires settlements of the money provided by the central and prefectural governments as well as compensation for local communities affected.

Given the dire fiscal situation and dubious economic benefits of public works projects, the era of extravagant spending on public investments is undoubtedly over.

It is urgent to create rules for pulling the plug on public works projects.


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