Dear friends:

Kawabegawa Dam Issue Update: February, 2000

* Construction Ministry Pursuing $137,000,000 Budget for Main Dam Construction in 2000 Despite Unresolved Dispute over Fishing Rights

Japan's Ministry of Construction calls the Kawabegawa Dam Project "a project needing rapid implementation due to emergency" (if you ask residents of the area they would call it "an unnecessary project"), and in that capacity has garnered a \15,100,000,000 ($137,000,000; $1=\110) budget for it for the 1999 Japanese fiscal year and is aiming at the same amount for fiscal year 2000.

Up until now the Kawabegawa Dam Project has included development of alternate land for persons to be displaced, access roads and other associated construction projects. Also, as "preparatory" construction for the main project, construction of a temporary drainage tunnel to dry up the area where the dam base will rest has taken place, and was completed in July 1999. In the 1999 budget, a line item was set aside for "actual construction costs of the main dam" in the amount of \500,000,000 ($4,600,000; $1=\110). However, to use these funds it was necessary to obtain permission from a group of fishermen who hold fishing rights in the area and who are organized into the Kumagawa Fishermen's Union (membership approximately 2000 people). The Kumagawa, of which the Kawabegawa is the largest tributary, has ayu (sweetfish) of which the flavor and size is said to be the number one in Japan. The ayu is famous and is served at Tokyo's high-class Japanese restaurants. In order to protect the ayu, the Kumagawa Fishermen's Union has stated that it is resolutely opposed to the dam.

Fishing rights are treated as very important rights in Japan as they are guaranteed in the Constitution as part of the "right to livelihood," and they help to preserve the livelihood of each one of the fishermen (and their families). The Ministry of Construction cannot force through the dam construction ignoring these fishing rights. In order to break up the Kumagawa Fishermen's Union which holds these strong rights, the Ministry of Construction is allied with certain members of the Union who have attempted to illegally influence other members. Among the members of the union, there are some who are affected by lies and intimidation tactics and who are changing their stance towards accepting the dam construction. The Ministry of Construction is also proceeding with as much ancillary construction as possible without clear planning just in order to make fishermen give up their opposition in the belief that "construction has already proceeded this far so...." On the other hand, there are many fishermen who are not confused by the intimidation tactics of one group of people and who are steadfast in their opposition to the dam in order to protect the river. They have formed a group " Association of Fishermen to Preserve the Kumagawa and Kawabegawa" and have developed a movement to protect their fishing rights in collaboration with other citizens' organizations.

A meeting of the sodaikai, the decision-making body for the Kumagawa Fishermen's Union is planned for the latter part of February just as the issue of the start of construction on the actual dam will come to a head....

* Decision Expected in Suit by Farmers Claiming No Need for Irrigation Water More than half (over 2000 representatives) of the 4000 families supposed to derive irrigation benefit from the dam have sued the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries saying they do not need the water from the dam and that the Ministry claims approval of the dam from farmers who have long been dead and that there have been numerous other examples of "oversights" (lies and deceptions) on the part of the Ministry. On February 4, 2000, the 12th set of oral arguments was held and the head of the lawyer's association said that the "agreement" between the government and farmers was void because the basis for proceeding with such a project -- the Agreement for Fair Procedures -- was not followed and that the Kawabegawa Irrigation Project should be cancelled. This case will have its final arguments on March 10, 2000 and it is expected that the courts will render a decision in August 2000. Rather than just wait for the court's decision, one can already say that the project is wasteful since more than half of the supposed beneficiaries say the project is unnecessary. Since irrigation for farmers is considered one of the goals of the Kawabegawa Dam, one would expect that the project would have to be reconsidered in its entirety.

* Differing Interpretations of Accountability
The Ministry of Construction is saying that it is proceeding with the project based on listening carefully to the opinions of residents (accountability) and this is also required in the River Law (1997). However, "accountability" to the Ministry seems to mean forcing one-sided explanations from the side of those favoring the project upon residents--and this is not bringing forth answers that respond even a bit to residents' doubts. To take one example, in response to the belief of many residents in Hitoyoshi City that the 1965 flood damage in the area was caused by the release of a large amount of water from the Ichifusa Dam, the Ministry of Construction provided only inadequate documents, repeating over and over that "There was no mistake in the management of the dam. The Ichifusa Dam was useful for preventing flood damage." Even though there is ample evidence that the water damage was for 30 minutes in which the water level rose 2 meters (suddenly and for a short period of time), according to Ministry of Construction documents, the 2-meter rise took 4 hours, differing greatly from the evidence of those who actually experienced the flooding.

Firstly, the starting premise of the Ministry of Construction is that the project must be pursued. Effort is then made to persuade residents to "understand" the content of the project (without any intent to alter the content). This stance is increasingly breeding mistrust towards the Ministry of Construction among residents.

* Citizens in Tokushima Prefecture Say a Historic No to a Public Works Project In January 2000 the country's first citizen's referendum concerning a public works project was held in connection with the Yoshino River in Tokushima Prefecture. There is a strict rule that the voting rate must be above 50% or the results will not be disclosed to the public. Even though many in favor of the dam boycotted the vote in an effort to invalidate it, the voting rate was approximately 55%, and 90% of voters voted to oppose the construction. Following the vote, the Minister of Construction called the results of the Yoshino vote a "mistaken exercise in democracy" and endeavored to ignore the opinions of this large number of area residents. Yet the reaction to the results of this vote was so strong that the Ministry has not been able to avoid a public effort to reassess the dam project--even if the Ministry still does not consider canceling the project within the realm of discussion.

In reality, public works projects are supposed to benefit the public. However, Japan's public works projects benefit one group of large construction companies, politicians and bureaucrats that form an iron triangle, and the general public is becoming more and more aware of this. This example of the citizen's referendum concerning the Yoshino River proves the large gap between elected bodies and officials and citizens' views (usually locally elected officials want public works projects because they receive subsidies).

* Objections to the Kawabegawa Dam Also Come in from Across the Country The movement to stop the Kawabegawa Dam has now spawned branches in Tokyo and Fukuoka and has spread across the country, raising doubts about the project. In addition, since coming to this point, we have received support from several environmental protection and other environmental organizations. In 1998, the Ministry of Construction made a chance in the plan for the Kawabegawa Dam, raising the overall costs to E265,000,000,000 ($2,410,000,000; $1=\110) from an initial cost of E35,000,000,000 ($320,000,000; $1=\110). This ballooning of costs resulted in a total of approximately 6,600 people from across Japan becoming signatories to formal objections to the project (3,854 persons actually filed objections). The Ministry of Construction never offered concrete replies to these objections which came in from across the country.

* Assess the Damage that Would Befall the Ecological Treasures of the Kawabegawa Area!
The Kawabegawa Dam is a large-scale project (height 107.5 meters, reservoir 391 hectares). Yet, using the reasoning that the plan for the dam was prepared before the Environmental Assessment Law was passed, no environmental assessment has taken place. At present a campaign to gather signatures of persons demanding an environmental assessment is occurring and the signatures of 30,000 people from across Japan will be presented to the Diet in the next session.

2,754 plant and animal species have been confirmed in the Kawabegawa watershed area. Recently it was revealed that if the dam is built and the planned area flooded that a precious species of spider as well as other species living in the Tsuzurase Cave will be affected. The Kumamoto Liaison Committee of Environmental Investigation Leaders did a survey of the Tsuzurase Cave in November 1999 and requested the Ministry of Construction to work to preserve the various species in the cave, but the Ministry has offered no effective method for preserving them. In addition, in December 1999 the Kumamoto Mountain Hawk Eagle Survey Group compiled results of a 3-year survey of mountain hawk eagles around the dam site and found that the mountain to be razed for gathering stone for the dam construction was in the core of both the mountain hawk habitat and breeding area. In addition, it became clear that the dam would flood a large part of the core area. According to the Red Databook published by Japan's Environmental Agency, the mountain hawk eagle is a species in danger of extinction. According to the Species Protection Act, the greatest effort from government and individual citizens is demanded for the protection of the mountain hawk eagle. The mountain hawk eagle is a species of large raptors which is positioned at the apex of an ecological pyramid. The survival of this bird is a symbol of the abundance of the environment in which it lives. Thus, maintaining an environment in which the mountain hawk eagle can live is a concern for all of us who care about our environment as a whole. Since this new fact came to light, it should be a matter of course that the construction is completely halted and an environmental assessment based on the Environmental Assessment Law take place.

* An Appeal to Local Citizens
On February 6, 2000, Citizens for Saving the Kawabe, together with farmers and fishermen, held a gathering and parade to appeal to public opinion within Kumamoto Prefecture.

The following was their public appeal:

The Kawabegawa watershed which has been called the best quality water in Japan by the Environment Agency is the treasure of all us citizens of Kumamoto prefecture. We have the responsibility and wish to pass the Kawabegawa's beauty, purity and abundance as well as the diversity of living things in the watershed area to children in the future. This wish is not confined to those who receive direct benefit from the river, but is becoming a common wish among a wide group of people.

However, even though almost 40 years have passed since the original plan for the Kawabegawa Dam was developed and the plan for \265,000,000,000 ($2,410,000,000; $1=\110) of tax money to be used for dam construction will continue the destruction of the scenery and habitat in the area, the Ministry of Construction is aiming to start construction on the main dam this year.

In order to stop this large-scale environmental damage and destruction of the purity of the water and not to leave a larger debt to the next generation of children, farmers and fishermen in the area have put in great effort. The farmers have gone to court to say that they don't need the irrigation water and fishermen have raised the flag of opposition to them dam in order to preserve water quality. These people have served as fortresses narrowly preventing the construction of the main dam. Now the government is trying to use its power to destroy the fortress erected by the fishermen.

Please lend us your power. Support the farmers and fishermen, and let's stop the environmental damage. With our power, we can protect the beautiful and abundant Kawabegawa and pass it on safely to our children.

We don't need dams in the 21st century.

Participants in the February 6, 2000 Emergency Gathering to Stop the Kawabegawa Dam and Preserve the Purest Water in Japan for the Future