• Kyodo

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The Saga District Court ordered the government Thursday to suspend construction of an inner dike in the Isahaya Bay reclamation project in line with a request by 106 fishermen.

The request was filed in November 2002 along with a damages suit, filed by some 860 people, demanding the state pay compensation to fishermen because the dike was harming the local fishing industry.

“The state should not proceed with the construction until the ruling on the damages suit is handed down,” presiding Judge Yoshiyasu Enoshita said in the provisional order.

He said the court recognized the causal relationship between the project and damage to fishing in the area.

It is extremely rare for the state to receive a judicial order to halt an ongoing mega-project. The move could place the whole governmental decision-making process on public works projects under scrutiny.

The Kyushu Regional Agricultural Administration Office said it plans to suspend the Isahaya construction work for the time being. The central government plans to appeal the ruling to a higher court.

“The argument of the government has not been accepted” by the court, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said in a statement. “We will closely examine the reasons behind the court decision.”

The 250 billion yen project, spearheaded by the farm ministry, is scheduled to produce about 700 hectares of farmland. About 94 percent of the construction work was completed by the end of March.

The fishermen had argued during the hearing for the provisional order that the dike had damaged fishing in the area by weakening tidal currents.

The state meanwhile insisted there were no causal relationships between the project and damage to fisheries.

But in Thursday’s order, the Saga court determined that the project has caused damage to fisheries, saying: “Damage to the fisheries industry has seriously affected local people’s livelihood. It is important to review the whole project, including the parts that had already been finished, and make necessary modifications.”

The judge said a review of the project would become difficult if the work is allowed to continue.

During the ongoing damages suit, the plaintiffs said red tides had occurred more frequently in the Ariake Sea after the reclamation project began in 1990, according to the petition.

This resulted in a sharp decline in catches of some maritime products. Closing the gates of another dike meanwhile caused the water quality to deteriorate across a wide area, causing heavy damage to production of nori.

If the planned 4.1-km dike is completed, the tideland will vanish completely and kill many living things, the plaintiffs said. The environmental rights of all the plaintiffs will also be infringed, they said.

The Saga court also criticized the farm ministry for its failure to open the dike gates on a medium-to-longer term to assess the impact on the nori crop — a measure recommended by a government panel examining the damage to the local fisheries industry.

Following the Saga court order, a group of fishermen in Kumamoto Prefecture visited the prefectural government and urged officials to press the state to immediately stop the Isahaya project, open the gates and assess the impact on nori production.

“We want (authorities) to save the fishermen. Bring us back the sea as it was before,” said Toshiaki Nakao, 63, a local fisherman.

In a related development, some 20 fishermen and a fisheries cooperative association in Fukuoka Prefecture have asked the Environmental Dispute Coordination Commission under the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry to judge the causal relationship between the adverse environmental changes of the Ariake Sea and the project.

Isahaya Bay is part of the Ariake Sea, a nearly landlocked body of water encircled by Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Saga and Fukuoka prefectures in western Kyushu.

The ministry began building the inner dike in August 2002 as part of a land reclamation project that covers farmland and a large reservoir, despite strong opposition from locals and fisheries associations.

The project area is surrounded by the main dike, 7 km long, whose gates were closed in 1997 to keep out seawater to facilitate the reclamation work. Construction is scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal 2006.

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