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New kinks surface to slow new airport

Date Posted: 2007-03-29

A smooth plan to purchase lands for the new Ishigaki Airport, and begin construction soon in order to have a 2013 grand opening, have taken a new twist.

Resistance to the new airport has been strong for nearly 30 years, and when agreement with landowners was finally reached a few months ago, everyone thought the island would be soon seeing more tourists as larger planes could land in the Yaeyama Islands. Landowners have tossed a new roadblock into the equation, demanding the government purchase properties from them that do not tie to the airport project.

The government has yet to purchase 28.9% of the land needed for the airport, a 56.4 hectares area, half of which is owned by a single company. The holdout landowners want the Prefecture or Ishigaki City to buy up lands adjacent to the planned airport, something government officials say there simply isn’t money to do. A proposal to swap the lands near the proposed airport for other land to the north has also been rejected.

“No way,” says an official. “The northern pastures are being held for a state owned park, and besides, that land receives subsidies for agriculture use. We can’t give that away.” He added it “looks like we don’t have any land in Ishigaki.”

A landowner rebuts that argument, noting “we have nothing against building the new airport. We just want the prefecture to buy our other land, and not only the land (being used for the new airport), because this other land won’t be valuable anymore after the airport is built.” The lands are situated adjacent to the airport.

“We have no budget for buying other land,” says a prefecture official. “We just need the land for the airport.” Landowners counter by noting “the price we’re being paid is already too low. We want the prefecture to buy our land now at a higher price.”

The prefecture appears ready to play hardball over the land purchase, telling landowners “the prefecture can take over the land by law, and we can execute orders to take the land if the companies don’t listen.” An spokesman says “The prefecture will initiate paperwork “for a land takeover.”

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