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Awase wetlands landfill work begins unexpectedly

Date Posted: 2002-10-12

Landfill work at the controversial Awase wetland site began unexpectedly Tuesday with the construction of a road bridging the site and the Awase Comprehensive Park. A small group of activists gathered to the site to protest the work.

Protesters expressed concern about the environmental damage the construction work will cause. They also accused Okinawa City officials of being sneaky and not totally forthcoming. “The city has lied to us. They started working on the site without telling anybody although they promised to assure that seaweed from the area could be successfully transplanted to another site. Nothing has been done on that,” a protester said.

The protesters are not alone with their concerns. The Environment Ministry will ask officials overseeing the reclamation to confirm that adequate measures will be taken to protect the wetland, Environment Minister Shunichi Suzuki said Tuesday.

Ministry experts will seek an explanation from officials of the Okinawa Development and Promotion Bureau after it was informed that the start of the construction was imminent. "The Environment Ministry is aware that this is a very important issue and we need to see that development authorities obey decisions made by the environmental evaluation committee -- such as the transplanting of sea grass," Suzuki said.

Attempts to transplant sea grass, some species of which are threatened with extinction, have yielded mixed results, drawing sharp criticism from preservation groups and some sea grass experts. The construction calls for sea grass at the reclamation area to be transplanted to an alternative site. The grass will not be dug up using machinery -- a method that has shown poor results in prior tests. Instead, divers will remove chunks of sea grass by hand, development authorities said.

The development plans call for building hotels, homes and public facilities on the site Opponents maintain that the plans are based on overly optimistic scenarios that were created during the so called “bubble years” more than a decade ago. They say that developing the site is not needed considering the current state of the economy. They claim that the city wants to see the project realized only because it would provide a boost to local construction industry.

Proponents of the plan, including current Okinawa City Mayor Masakazu Nakasone say that the opposite is true. “This project is vital for the development of the city. It will attract business and tourists and help us revitalize our city,” the proponents argue. They also say that if the construction does not start immediately, the city will stand to lose a subsidy from the central government that has been earmarked for the project.

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