Japan's Supreme Court on Friday scrapped a lower court ruling and sent back a case involving the floodgates of a dike at Isahaya Bay, in what has been a protracted legal battle over a state-run land reclamation project in southwestern Japan.
With the decision, the Fukuoka High Court will conduct further hearings between the central government and local fishermen in their contentious court battle over whether to open the gates of the dike in Nagasaki Prefecture.
"The finalized ruling that ordered the opening of the gates has a tendency to change as time passes based on future forecasts," the top court ruling said, suggesting a 2010 order issued by the Fukuoka court could be nullified.
The state has faced contradicting court decisions over the Isahaya dike.
In December 2010, the Fukuoka court ordered the state to open the gates as sought by fishermen who hoped to investigate the cause of their poor catches. In November 2013, the Nagasaki District Court ordered the government not to open them, as sought by farmers who worried about salt pollution of their farmlands.
In order to resolve the contradicting orders, the state filed a suit in 2014, demanding the 2010 ruling be nullified.
In July last year, the Fukuoka court ruled the gates should remain closed in a decision that effectively overturned the 2010 ruling, prompting the fishermen to file an appeal with the top court.
The floodgates of the 7-kilometer-long dike, enclosing part of the Ariake Sea, have been shut since 1997 for a land reclamation project requested by Nagasaki Prefecture.
It created 670 hectares of farmland and a reservoir for use in farming at a cost of 253 billion yen ($2.3 billion).
Isahaya Bay is part of the Ariake Sea, a nearly landlocked body of water encircled by Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Saga and Fukuoka prefectures in the southwestern main island of Kyushu.
The state has said the reclamation will also help protect local communities from flood damage.© KYODO