Kumamoto governor against dam

Public won't give in to 42-year effort to block Kawabe River, Kabashima tells government

KUMAMOTO (Kyodo) Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima told the central government Thursday to cancel its 42-year-old plan to build a dam on the Kawabe River and find a more environmentally responsible flood-control measure for the area.

“The current plan should be totally retracted and a flood control measure not depending on a dam should be pursued,” the governor, who was elected in March, told the Kumamoto Prefectural Assembly.

Kabashima’s opposition to the dam is not legally binding but is expected to affect the state’s position, because it is required to hear local government opinions on such projects.

Kabashima said the main reason he is against the project is because the mayor of Hitoyoshi, the city the dam is designed to protect, is against the project as well.

“The Kuma River (the main branch of the Kawabe River) is a treasure for residents along it. I think popular opinion is currently leaning toward protecting the river,” he said.

The central government announced the dam project in 1966. It was intended to be built in the village of Sagara at a cost of more than ¥300 billion, but local opposition from municipalities and farmers has thwarted the project for decades.

Following Kabashima’s announcement, infrastructure minister Sadakazu Tanigaki issued a statement saying his ministry is taking the governor seriously. “We would like to make a responsible decision after thoroughly examining the situation,” the statement said.

Later in the day, Kabashima told a news conference that he was optimistic the government would finally give up on the project.

“I think a long confrontation between the supporters and opponents (to the dam project) will be put to an end,” Kabashima said.

“It is democracy to believe in moving forward by uniting together after overcoming differences. It is a step forward,” he said.

Past Kumamoto governors supported the dam, but Kabashima’s predecessor, Yoshiko Shiotani, who was elected for the first of two terms in 2000, was neutral on the issue. She did not seek a third term.

Kabashima, a former professor of political science at the University of Tokyo, won the governor’s race in March with support from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. As one of his election promises, he said he would express his opinion on the dam project in the prefectural assembly in September.