RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate — Some residents here have won their fight to have their properties hit by the March 2011 tsunami exempted from municipal government designation as zones vulnerable to natural disasters, it has been learned.
The residents had pushed for the exemption as they did not want to move. As a result, some legally designated vulnerable areas sit side-by-side with undesignated areas even in places that were badly hit by the tsunami.
Under the Building Standards Act, local authorities are supposed to place restrictions on land use in areas designated as zones vulnerable to disasters. However, the Rikuzentakata Municipal Government chose not to designate some land as such despite severe damage caused by the disasters, bowing to pressure from owners. In contrast, municipalities in other disaster areas, including those in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, have uniformly designated areas as such regardless of residents’ opinions.
The revelations highlight the difficulties when administrative organizations step into individual property rights and rights of residence. The Iwate Prefectural Government is critical of the municipal government’s policy.
“Since the primary aim of the Building Standards Act is to eliminate dangers, the local body should apply those standards uniformly,” said an official from the prefectural government’s construction and housing division.
Rikuzentakata stipulated in an ordinance in March 2012 that the city must designate areas that are specified by the mayor as zones vulnerable to disasters, and that vulnerable areas can be exempted from designation only if absolutely necessary.
Areas amounting to some 1,300 hectares in the city were flooded as a result of a massive tsunami generated by the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Of these areas, the city considered designating five residential areas, totaling 142.5 hectares, as zones vulnerable to disasters.
However, the city has thus far designated only about 58 hectares. Some residents in these areas have already rebuilt their homes on their own lots, as the city does not designate properties where home owners are seeking to rebuild in situ as vulnerable.