A 6-year-old dispute over a planned waste-disposal site in the town of Hinode, western Tokyo, came to a head Tuesday when metropolitan government officials attempted to seize the 461-sq.-meter plot owned by citizens opposed to the project.

Protesters wait in the woods as Tokyo officials on Tuesday try to seize land to expand a waste dump in Hinode, western Tokyo.

Officials of the metropolitan government, working on behalf of a group of garbage disposal companies known as the Tokyo Santama Area Regional Association of Waste Disposal, confronted protesters in an effort to start work on the plot, which is earmarked for the second-phase of an expansion plan for the Futatsuzuka disposal site.

It is the first time a local government has attempted to forcibly seize land to build a garbage dump.

The metropolitan government is trying to evict the opponents, who have erected huts and other structures on the land.

About 200 police officers and several dozen security workers mobilized for the order were opposed by around 200 protesters, including children. Many of them had stayed overnight at the site, where they staged a rally and faced security personnel through two steel fences surrounding the site.

At 8:55 a.m., Tsuyoshi Hashimoto, head of the property management division of the metropolitan government, read the order of expropriation and asked the protesters to vacate the site.

But the protesters demanded that officials open talks with them, claiming the expropriation procedure was illegal.

The standoff, which lasted all day, saw both sides locked in a shouting match waged with loudspeakers.

But while the citizens protested, construction workers began working a bulldozer and an excavator on an adjacent plot, taking down the first of the fences that ring the site.

The protesters held onto the inner fence, however, forcing the authorities to give up for the day.

Metro officials said they would continue to ask the protesters to leave and hoped they would do so voluntarily. They did not elaborate on how and when the expropriation order would be executed if the standoff continues.

About 2,800 landowners started a trust movement in November 1994 by each purchasing an average 40-sq.-cm portion of the planned Futatsuzuka disposal site.

They lost their legal ownership of the land, however, after authorities completed paying compensation in March. The protesters, claiming due process was not followed, then resorted to the court.

The expropriation paves the way for the second-phase of the 18.4-hectare Futatsuzuka waste dump, which will process garbage from 3.7 million people living in the Tama area’s 27 municipalities.

The site has taken delivery of 800 tons of garbage daily since the first phase of the plan was completed in January 1998.

“Actually, it is already too late to start second-phase construction since it will take about 21/2 years to complete,” said an official of the Santama District Wide Area Waste Disposal Union, a cooperative of the municipalities that jointly run the project.

“By that time, the first one will have reached capacity.”

Protests over the plan started after contaminated water was allegedly found to be leaking from the Yatozawa waste dump near the Futatsuzuka dump in 1992.

The tainted water reportedly leaked from the garbage pit, which was insulated by 1.5-mm-thick plastic sheets.

The same insulation sheets are planned for the Futatsuzuka site.

Both the union and the metropolitan government claim their research proves neither site is hazardous.

However, the activists called authorities irresponsible, saying research conducted by those authorities is inconclusive and does not rule out the possibility that waste dumps may cause dioxin pollution.

“It is impossible to dig up all the garbage and check the (plastic) sheets underneath to see whether the contaminated water is really leaking,” a metro official said.

High dioxin levels have already been detected within the site, the activists said, adding that rain may lead to the contamination of surrounding areas.

The activists said the union has been reluctant to disclose the findings of research and other information concerning the site, despite being asked to do so.

The activists also criticized the Tokyo government’s expropriation commission — a body that is politically independent from the governor and the assembly.

In March 1999, the commission cut short public hearings on whether the site should be expropriated, giving officials the green light that October.

The decision required that landowners be reimbursed the 7.2 million yen cost of the site and the union said they have so far spent 500 million yen to this end.

The expense has occurred because the Expropriation Law requires that landowners — in this case, more than 2,800 — be paid in person, and many live overseas.

Officials expect the final cost — including travel, personnel and legal fees — to reach 700 million yen.

Tuesday’s actions came as more than 10 court cases filed by the landowners are pending, some demanding nullification of approval.

“They should wait at least until the lawsuits have ended,” said Yutaka Osawa of Hinode no Mori Trust Movement, a citizens’ group opposed to the dump site.

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said last week that he had no choice but to carry out the expropriation and dismissed the possibility of a last-minute reprieve.

The landowners are “opposing for opposition’s sake,” Ishihara said.

“They refused to sit at the negotiating table from the beginning. They are the ones who crossed the Rubicon,” he said.

Protesters claim, however, that the authorities’ actions have made it impossible to open negotiations, including demanding a list of those involved in the campaign and the withdrawal of litigation.

Tsunao Imamura, a professor of public administration at Chuo University, said the union is an example of a cooperative union system failing because no officials will take responsibility for problems.

The activists criticized the union as an archaic entity so bent on waste disposal that it lacks the will power and ability to tackle the Hinode problem from any other angle.

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