Tohoku dike projects way behind schedule


With the fifth anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Tohoku fast approaching, of the projects launched to build and rebuild 400 kilometers of dikes in the hardest hit prefectures, only 12.9 percent of the barriers have been completed.

All of the tsunami walls in 568 coastal areas in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, were initially planned to be completed during the so-called intensive reconstruction period through fiscal 2015, which ends this month. The target has been met in only 73 of the areas.

Of the projects, construction is under way at 338 sites, or 59.5 percent of the total, but has yet to start in 157 locations, or 27.6 percent.

Many of the projects have been delayed due to prolonged talks and negotiations between local authorities and residents who have had trouble reaching agreements on the heights of the dikes and other issues such as labor and material shortages.

More than 18,000 people, mainly in coastal areas, died or went missing when the disaster struck.

Under the project, the new dikes and repairs are being designed to hold back “Level One” tsunami waves, which are believed to occur once every several decades to 100 years.

In September 2011, an expert panel from the government’s Central Disaster Prevention Council recommended the construction of barriers that can handle Level One tsunami waves while advising that preparations also be made to rapidly evacuate residents in the event of a Level Two tsunami, such as the one that struck in March 2011.

The tsunami barriers in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures will cover some 20 percent of their coastlines. Construction costs, estimated to total ¥1 trillion, will be financed mainly by state funds.

By the end of December, 8.8 percent of the dike projects in Iwate were completed, with 85.1 percent still in the construction phase.

The rate of completed dikes as of the end of January came to 15.7 percent in Miyagi and 4.2 percent in Fukushima, while that of dikes under construction was 46.9 percent and 86.1, respectively.

The proportion of projects still in the preconstruction stage was particularly high in Miyagi, at 37.4 percent, where 382 of the three prefectures’ 568 project sites are located.

In Miyagi, barriers are to be newly built, rather than rebuilt, at about 60 percent of the sites where prefecture-managed fishing ports are located.

In the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, walls nearly 10 meters high were planned for one district, but the project stalled following request from residents to make them lower in a bid to preserve the scenic view.

In Kesennuma, another city in the prefecture, the local government is close to ordering that construction begin after three years of consultations with residents.

The Miyagi Prefectural Government has extended the target date for finishing all of the projects to the end of fiscal 2017, but it is still seen missing that goal as well by some.