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Tokyo task force fails to find figure to blame for missing soil base at Toyosu

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike explains issues concerning the relocation of the Tsukiji market to a new site in Toyosu, during a regular news conference at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office on Sept. 30, 2016. (Mainichi)

An investigative task force set up at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has failed to identify who was responsible for a decision to forgo laying a soil base underneath key structures at the new Toyosu wholesale market site, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike disclosed on Sept. 30.

"It was difficult to identify exactly who made the decision and when," Koike told a regular press conference on Sept. 30, as she unveiled an in-house verification report compiled by the special task force.

According to the report, metropolitan officials began considering skipping a soil base sometime around October 2008 and the plan was changed in stages over a period up until February 2013 -- when the blueprint for the market buildings was finalized. The decision came despite an existing expert panel recommendation that a soil bank be installed to prevent benzene from vaporizing into the structures above.

Koike said her government will continue interviewing metropolitan employees and establish a whistleblowing system to identify who was responsible for the controversial decision. As to whether the investigation results would affect the relocation of the Tsukiji fish market in Chuo Ward to the Toyosu site in Koto Ward, she only said, "I'll make a decision after seeing the results of underwater monitoring (in November)." The monitoring will be the ninth and final survey of its kind.

The report was compiled after the task force interviewed 32 individuals including employees at the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market and examined past documents.

According to the report, the move to alter the soil base plan dates back to October 2008, when a member of an expert technical meeting tasked with examining the construction method for a soil embankment said, "It is necessary to take into account long-term monitoring and treatment (of groundwater)." The remark sparked discussions by central wholesale market officials about securing a work space for monitoring and purifying such water.

In January 2009, a concept image was drawn up with heavy machinery placed in an underground space. In November 2010, specifications to be attached to a basic design for the market site included a statement that a space would be created underground. In August 2011, the central wholesale market's new market development division, which was set up in November 2010, reaffirmed that a space would be created underneath the buildings during a meeting of division and section heads. However, there was no explanation about the decision to forgo a soil base, resulting in the failure among officials to share the information.

Furthermore, the change of the soil base plan was never passed down from the architectural division, which was in charge of construction, to the civil engineering division that was responsible for soil pollution countermeasures. The report concluded that while there were several opportunities for officials to build consensus, no clear organizational decision-making took place.

"A major cause of this problem lies in a lack of a sense of responsibility. The way officials took over work from their predecessors was also sloppy, and I would have to say they lacked compliance," Koike said, lashing out at former metropolitan officials in charge of the project.

Also on Sept. 30, Koike announced that the metropolitan government would sincerely deal with compensation for market dealers for damage stemming from the stalled market relocation.

"It is true they are already paying lease fees for equipment such as refrigerators. We will sincerely address compensation for them," she said.

Market dealers have contributed at least tens of billions yen to the Toyosu market site. They are seeking compensation from the metropolitan government due to the market relocation being put on hold. Koike earlier said, "We will look into the issue after examination at the metropolitan government's administrative reform headquarters."

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