We appear to have reached the time for an important political decision on the debacle over the relocation of Tokyo's aging Tsukiji fish market to the Toyosu waterfront area.
The most recent groundwater survey at the newly constructed Toyosu site detected levels of benzene up to 100 times the government-set safety limit. This is even higher than the level of 79 times the permitted limit recorded during the ninth round of checks last time. Furthermore, the number of spots where harmful substances in excess of the allowable limit were detected rose to 25 of the 29 sampled locations.
In explaining the dramatically higher figures, a panel of experts pointed out that the flow of groundwater has changed due to a groundwater management system that began full-scale operations last autumn, and localized deposits of contaminated materials may have moved.
The contamination levels rose sharply after the eighth round of tests. The backlash recently seen from market officials at a meeting of the expert panel is only natural.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has stated that she will make a "comprehensive decision" on the planned relocation based on the results of tests and other factors, and avoided stating a clear opinion. At a Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly meeting last week, Koike stated that the safety of the Toyosu market site has been confirmed. It was apparently reasoned that the soil at the site is covered with concrete and the environment above the ground is therefore not affected.
However, just as the governor herself has said that the trust of consumers has not been obtained, stating that the site is safe in the wake of the latest tests is hardly persuasive.
Until a decision is made on the fate of the new market, middle traders will have no outlook for the future. And the compensation payments being shelled out to business operators will keep swelling.
A regional party headed by Koike is preparing to field a large number of candidates in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election in July. In campaigning for the election, Koike plans to question the stance of the metropolitan assembly that approved the move to Toyosu and those responsible for deciding on the move, including former Gov. Shintaro Ishihara. Some observers speculate that Koike will refrain from deciding whether to continue using the Tsukiji site or move to the Toyosu one until the assembly election so she can make it a point of contention in the vote.
But the relocation, into which a huge amount of funds have been poured, is an issue of utmost importance for the metropolitan government.
Since we now have new test data, the governor should not delay her decision any longer.
On March 19, an investigative committee looking into the market relocation questioned former Tokyo Deputy Gov. Takeo Hamauzu, who was in charge of a land contract with Tokyo Gas Co. to purchase the Toyosu site. Hamauzu said he didn't know there was an agreement between the two sides for Tokyo Gas to limit the scope of soil contamination countermeasures that were to be conducted. He said metropolitan officials had gone ahead and made the agreement of their own accord.
Only recently former Gov. Ishihara stated that he left the issue up to experts and didn't receive reports. It is lamentable for the two top figures in the metropolitan government at the time to sidestep their own responsibility.
But just because the investigative committee is continuing to pursue officials' responsibility, it doesn't mean that the relocation issue can be left idle. The ball has been returned to Koike's court.