Years of Confusion over Floodgates Damaged Public Confidence in Govt

A legal battle that lasted more than 20 years has finally come to an end. But local residents’ distrust toward the government persists. The government must do its utmost to repair the strained relationship.

A lawsuit in connection with the state-run Isahaya Bay land reclamation project in Nagasaki Prefecture reached the Supreme Court. At stake was whether to invalidate a previously finalized Fukuoka High Court ruling that ordered the opening of floodgates in the project’s dike, a move that had been demanded by local fishers. Rejecting an appeal by the fishers, the Supreme Court declared the high court’s previously finalized ruling invalid and upheld a later high court judgement against opening the gates.

The reclamation project, which involved closing off part of Isahaya Bay in the Ariake Sea with a 7-kilometer dike and developing farmland in that area, was completed in 2008. Fishers demanded that the gates be opened because their catch had decreased due to the project, while farmers opposed doing so because opening the gates would cause salt damage to fields.

Many lawsuits from both sides were filed, and in 2010, a Fukuoka High Court ruling ordering the opening of the gates became final. However, in another lawsuit, the Nagasaki District Court ordered an injunction against opening the gates, creating a “twisted situation” in which conflicting judicial decisions coexisted.

This time, the Supreme Court has reached a single unifying judgment that the gates should not be opened. This is expected to be a stepping-stone to a resolution of the issue.

However, it must be said that the road to the settlement has been too long.

If the interests of the parties involved are complex and multiple lawsuits are filed, this often results in diametrically opposed judgments. It is regrettable that the judiciary failed to reach a quick resolution this time.

Regarding the Fukuoka High Court ruling in 2010 that ordered the opening of the gates, then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, while the Democratic Party of Japan was in power, abandoned a government appeal without consulting with local governments, making the ruling final.

Had he consulted with the local community and sought a decision from the top court, the dispute could have been resolved much earlier.

Then there was a change of government, and subsequent governments did not follow the finalized ruling ordering the opening of the gates. Now, the judiciary has followed a complex course of invalidating the finalized ruling. It must be said that the responsibility for the meandering course of events lies with the government, which did not sincerely face local residents.

In the latest lawsuit, the court repeatedly urged the government and the fishers to hold settlement talks, but the reluctant government finally stopped coming to the table.

It will not be easy to mitigate the antipathy of the local residents, who were at the mercy of politics. It is said that the government will seek to resolve the issue by, for example, establishing a fund to promote the fishing industry. Continued research on the natural environment of the Ariake Sea is also essential.

The local community and the government should be on the same page in terms of promoting economic activity around the Ariake Sea. The government should sincerely face local residents and take measures to ensure that fishing and agriculture can coexist.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 4, 2023)