Judge tosses suit seeking to block Okinawa base relocation over endangered species

The dugong is a medium-sized marine mammal that can be distinguished from manatees by its forked tail.


By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 3, 2018

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A U.S. district court judge has thrown out a lawsuit brought by environmental groups looking to block Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s relocation within Okinawa because of an endangered species.

The Defense Department has adequately studied and considered the impacts that a new runway into Oura Bay at Camp Schwab would have on the Okinawan dugong, according to a ruling Wednesday by Judge Edward Chen of the Northern District of California.

The elusive marine mammal, which is a cousin to the manatee, is known to live in waters off the southern island prefecture.

The plaintiffs — the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity and a consortium of U.S. and Japanese environmental groups and individuals — filed the suit in 2003, claiming that the U.S. government pursued Futenma’s relocation without considering “its potential adverse effects” on the dugong.

As a result, the Defense Department commissioned and consulted a variety of reports regarding the endangered anmial, its biological and cultural well-being and Japanese environmental impact statements.

The plaintiffs responded by accusing the U.S. government of failing to consult environmental groups, “cultural practitioners, local and Okinawa government officials,” and failing to alert the plaintiffs that such a process was underway, the ruling said.

Chen rejected that argument, writing that the Defense Department had considered “both direct impacts on the dugong’s cultural significance and indirect impact that could result from biological harm.”

Peter Galvin, director of programs at the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz., told The Associated Press Thursday that the ruling was “wrong” and would be overturned on appeal.


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