ONAGAWA, Miyagi — Residents of a fishing community in this tsunami-stricken town have set about finding relocation sites by themselves — countering the local government’s slow action.
With the help of professional consulting firms, residents of the town’s Takeura district are advancing group relocation plans to an area further away from the threat of tsunamis.
At first, Onagawa town officials planned to construct houses at elevated places remote from the coast and to merge all fishing villages. However, residents opposed these plans, fearing that community ties would fray in the process. As a result, it was decided that communities would be relocated to an elevated inland area without being split up.
Because they were being dispersed across approximately 30 different temporary housing complexes after the March 11 disasters, residents of the Takeura district created an address list to keep themselves together, and kept in contact.
In November last year, nine of them visited areas including the site of the former village of Yamakoshi in Niigata Prefecture, which was hit by the Chuetsu Earthquake in 2004. There they inspected rebuilt homes, and studied the community building process. They also made inquiries about efforts to maintain communities, and incorporated what they learned into their plans.
Takeura district residents eventually selected four potential relocation areas and consulted specialists to survey the locations for all necessary factors for home construction. The residents also obtained permission from each of the locations’ land owners to use the areas as potential relocation sites.
In early December last year, the Onagawa Municipal Government suggested a relocation area based on the residents’ proposals, and began official negotiations on the construction of roads and other infrastructure between residents, consulting firms and municipal officials, using charts and diagrams made by experts.
The central government’s response towards residents’ relocation in quake and tsunami-affected areas has been slow. Despite establishing the Act on Special Financial Support for Promoting Group Relocation for Disaster Mitigation and establishing a supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 to finance measures to encourage collective relocation from areas that are now deemed dangerous to live in, local municipalities are still at the stage of debating collective relocation plans.
Experts say the relocation plans initiated by residents in the Takeura district, however, may serve as a model for other hard-hit areas. According to the Tohoku division of Nippon Engineering Consultants Co., a consulting firm in charge of some group relocation areas in Onagawa, the Takeura district has moved forward with relocation the fastest of all disaster-hit areas situated on a peninsula.
Onagawa initially had six town areas earmarked for group relocation following the March 11 disasters, but recently the figure has increased to more than 10. However, there are only nine local officials working on the relocation and their workload has doubled.
“In the case of group relocation, we need to have mutual trust with residents. However, we don’t have enough people working on this. Normally, around 50 to 60 are needed for a project like this,” says one of the officials in charge