NAHA, Okinawa — A group of Okinawa residents filed suit Wednesday, demanding that the governor revoke his approval for landfill work to start on a new runway at Camp Schwab that is crucial to U.S. plans to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
It’s the first of what is expected to be a series of potential stumbling blocks for the controversial, long-delayed project to close Futenma, which now sits in a densely populated area. The suit asks Naha district court to issue an order to the central government in Tokyo to suspend the project while the case is pending.
After several months of consideration — and a series of “sweeteners” from Tokyo for the prefecture — Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima on Dev. 27 approved permits for the landfill work to start.
A total of 194 residents, including 43 from Henoko and neighboring communities, argue that the government failed to present adequate protective measures for the project’s impact on the environment, including endangered dugongs.
“This is a milestone in our continued fight to stop the construction of a new military base in Henoko,” Hiroshi Ashitomi, who leads the residents group, told a rally before the lawsuit was filed.
“Our struggle to stop the construction of a new military base on Okinawa is destined to win because it is the consensus of 1.4 million people of Okinawa.”
There has been vocal opposition to the Henoko project, and many Okinawans want Futenma moved completely off the island.
A mayoral election on Sunday in Nago will serve as something of a referendum. It pits incumbent Susumu Inamine, who is adamant about blocking the runway project, against Bunshin Suematsu, who supports it, backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Surveys have indicated Inamine is leading.
It is not known whether the court will deem the residents as qualified plaintiffs. A legal expert who is not involved in the litigation said a ruling on the requested temporary injunction is expected to come promptly.
The opposition group, along with U.S. supporters, plans to file a second dugong lawsuit in early March in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, calling for the Department of Defense to take protective measures for the dugong, a group representative said.