Kobe airport foes vow door-to-door poll


KOBE — Local citizens’ groups said Wednesday they will canvass residents door-to-door next month in order to determine once and for all whether people want a Kobe airport.

This decision by antiairport activists, who had been badly split on strategy following City Hall’s rejection of a plebiscite proposal last year, came one day after the Transport Ministry gave final approval for the airport.

Construction of an artificial island in Kobe harbor, on which the single-runway, domestic airport is to be built, could begin as early as mid-
September, Kobe officials said.

Although local officials declared that the last remaining obstacle to the airport had been cleared, citizens’ groups opposed to the project said they would survey all residents in and around Kobe to determine how much support the airport really has. “From July 11 to Aug. 8, we will go door-to-door and have stands set up in shopping arcades and pass out ballots, asking people whether they are for or against the airport. We will ask Kobe residents and those living in towns right beside Kobe,” said Yasushi Hirata, the head of the largest antiairport group.

“The Transport Ministry once said the airport should only be carried out if it has the will of local residents. By taking an informal vote, we can find out once and for all just how much support the project has,” Hirata said.

Last fall, Hirata’s group and several others amassed 350,000 signatures, including 310,000 from eligible voters, or one-third the total, calling for a plebiscite on the issue.

But after the city assembly turned down the proposal in December by a vote of 51 to 19, the opposition split into several groups, each with differing views on what strategy to pursue.

Partially because of the disagreements, of the 15 city council candidates who campaigned against the airport for the election in April, only four won.

Various local media polls taken since the January 1995 earthquake have shown that anywhere between 70 percent and 80 percent oppose the airport. Many of those opposed feel the city should spend money on assisting the quake survivors and on social welfare facilities.

There are also concerns that Kobe, which will issue 210 billion yen in bonds to pay for the project, will go bankrupt. The city has 3 trillion yen in outstanding bonds, or 2 million yen per resident — the largest ratio for any major city in Japan.

Kobe airport is scheduled to open in 2005. By 2010, city officials predict the airport will have injected 360 billion yen into the local economy and provided direct or indirect employment for over 27,000 people.