In court, Japan urged to admit it’s dropped airport plan
NAHA, Okinawa — Smelling victory in their attempt to halt construction of a new Marine air station in northeast Okinawa, plaintiffs’ lawyers in a suit filed against the Japanese government Tuesday demanded Tokyo admit defeat.
During a hearing in Naha District Court, attorney Nozomi Kanetaka said the national government should admit it has abandoned plans to build a huge new airport in the waters off Nago’s Henoko district to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
“U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless said that the current plan would be impossible to achieve,” Kanetaka said. “It is obvious that both governments have no intention to pursue the present plan.”
The plan is to build a 1.5-mile runway on 455 acres of reclaimed land and a reef about two miles offshore from Henoko, connected by causeway to Camp Schwab. It would replace MCAS Futenma in urban Ginowan. Closing Futenma is part of a 1996 bilateral pact to reduce by 21 percent land the U.S. military uses on Okinawa.
In December, opponents — including 85 environmentalists, anti-military activists and Henoko residents — sued the Japanese government, which is to pay the project’s $2.87 billion tab.
The litigants are part of a group of protesters who have camped out at the Henoko port for 18 months, effectively stalling the project.
“Four platforms set up in waters by the Defense Facilities Administration Agency were removed on the pretext of preparing for a typhoon,” Kanetaka said. “But they have not been restored. The environment surrounding the present plan has been remarkably changed.”
Both governments have advocated scaling back the original plan to a .93-mile runway.
Japanese defense officials have said they favor building the facility on Camp Schwab, extending it into Oura Wan Bay’s shallow waters. U.S. officials favor building the stripped-down air station in the same area as the original replacement project.
Failure to agree on the site could delay an interim report on realignment that was to have been issued around Oct. 29, Japanese defense officials have said.
However, a smaller air station would be unable to handle civilian aircraft. Joint use of the facility was key to the prefectural government’s endorsement. Gov. Keiichi Inamine said he opposes any alternate plan — unless it means the Marines leaving Okinawa.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Henoko residents demanded to know why the environmental survey needs to be continued when no one is sure where the new base will be.
A Japanese government attorney replied that Tokyo officials will review whether or not to answer the question.
The next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 24.
After Tuesday’s hearing, about a dozen plaintiffs and their backers gathered outside the courthouse. “We have been staging a sit-in protest for over 500 days,” said plaintiff Hiroshi Ashitomi. “With our tenacious effort, the situation has changed. We will continue to fight against any future plan that adds a new military facility to Okinawa.”