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Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001

Kobe airport foes marshall forces

Staff writer

KOBE -- Although construction began on controversial Kobe airport two years ago, citizens opposed to the facility continue pursuing all avenues to try to stop it, including new public disclosure laws and the upcoming mayoral election.

Construction of the single-runway airport, being built at a cost of 314 billion yen on an artificial island off Kobe port, began in September 1999. The artificial island's retaining walls are nearing completion.

Citizens opposed to the airport, however, are continuing their fight by taking advantage of the public information disclosure law that went into effect in April. They say the information they have found only serves to increase their suspicions about the necessity of the airport.

"Information we have obtained so far has deepened our concern that the airport would not only become an unnecessary public works project but also would pose a danger to air and sea transportation due to expected congestion in air and sea space," said Narishige Nakata, professor at the Osaka Institute of Technology and the head of a citizens' group opposing the project.

Nakata, who has been questioning the project for more than 10 years, said in a recent symposium that one of the most significant pieces of information disclosed relates to congested airspace in the region.

Kobe airport, scheduled to be completed in 2005, will be the third airport serving the Kansai region. Osaka airport, in the city of Itami, deals with domestic flights, while Kansai International Airport handles both domestic and international flights.

A report compiled in March 2000 by the then Transport Ministry's research institute cites an air control simulation used to forecast operations after the opening of the new airport. The report shows that air traffic will pose a serious problem for the Kansai region, especially when flights arrive consecutively at Kansai International Airport.

Since Kansai International's arriving flights share the same routes as Kobe airport's departing flights, the danger may cause delays at Kobe airport, it says.

Tetsuji Mori, chairman of the Japan Federation of Civil Aviation Worker's Union for Air Safety, a group working to eliminate aviation accidents, agreed with the simulation results. Kobe airport would place a heavy burden on air controllers and pilots because many planes would gather in the airspace above Kobe airport, said Mori, who is also a pilot.

"As a pilot, I really doubt the necessity of the Kobe airport," Mori said. "From the viewpoint of airspace, the Kobe airport poses a serious problem."

Sea transportation could be affected as well, according to Nakata, who pointed out that the artificial island could cause congestion in sea lanes. The marine organisms affected by the project may also cause environmental problems, he warned.

The airport has become an important issue in Kobe's upcoming mayoral election. Incumbent Mayor Kazutoshi Sasayama, who strongly supported the project, declared in July that he would not run in the Oct. 28 election.

Eight people, including former Kobe Deputy Mayor Tatsuo Yada, have shown interest in running in the election. Yada, who is believed to share Sasayama's policies, told local company executives in August that he wants the airport to serve international flights as well.

At least three other likely candidates, however, have said they are against the airport, although they disagree over how the artificial island should be used if the project is canceled.

If Yada runs in the election, he will likely be the strongest candidate because as deputy mayor, most city officials are likely to support him.

The October election marks the third attempt by antiairport groups to stop the project. In the 1997 mayoral election, a candidate backed by antiairport groups was defeated by Sasayama. In 1998, the citizens' groups collected around 310,000 signatures asking a plebiscite be held on the airport project. It was rejected by the city assembly.

"Seizing this opportunity provided by the election, we should again call on the public to draw attention to the airport project and to thoughtfully choose their next mayor," Nakata said.

However, the citizens' groups have yet to reach a consensus on which candidate they will support in the run against Yada.

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