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Okinawa officials halt Futenma relocation work for a third time

An aerial view of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa, Japan.

COURTESY OF WIKICOMMONS

By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND AYA ICHIHASHI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 31, 2018

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Okinawa prefectural officials have followed through on promises to again revoke permits related to the construction of a coastal runway that would facilitate the relocation and closure of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

The announcement was made Friday afternoon by Okinawa vice governor Kiichiro Jahana. Prefectural officials based the move on allegations that Tokyo violated environmental regulations regarding an endangered species of coral found at the site, deviated from construction plans and withheld vital information.

Japanese broadcaster NHK said the Japanese government would be forced to hold off on landfill plans for the runway until a decision is made by the courts. The Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper reported a ruling could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

Jahana, who said Tokyo’s plans for the site will cause environmental calamity, called the construction “illegal.”

“It is suitable to revoke the approval on landfill,” he said. “We will do our best to stop the … construction.”

This is the third time the administration has either revoked permitting for the project or sued to stop it. It is largely seen as a last-ditch effort after two previous attempts were struck down in Japanese courts.

Officials from the Okinawa Defense Bureau, which represents Japan’s defense ministry on the island, said they had just received the letter outlining the prefectural government’s plans at 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon and couldn’t comment until they had time to digest its contents.

In the past, Japanese officials threatened to punish Okinawa for unnecessarily delaying the project by seeking compensation. Jahana said he was not worried because he felt the prefecture’s legal argument for revoking the permit was sound, the Ryukyu Shimpo reported.

“We strongly believed the withdrawal is an appropriate action and there will be no compensation,” he said.

Relocating Marine air operations from the densely packed urban area of Futenma is more than 20 years in the making because of safety concerns over frequent overhead flight operations.

The plan to build a runway into Oura Bay at Camp Schwab in Henoko was decided during bilateral negotiations in 2006. The move was opposed by a small but passionate protest movement on the island.

Former Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima signed off on a permit to allow the landfill work in 2013 and construction began in August 2014; however, the November 2014 election of Takeshi Onaga threatened to derail the project.

Onaga ran on a platform vowing to stop the project and eject the MV-22 Osprey from the island.

He revoked a permit to fill in the sea for the runway in March 2016, which halted construction. That move was struck down by the Fukuoka High Court in December 2016.

He then filed a district court lawsuit in July 2017, which ended unsuccessfully in March.

Plans were then made to start construction on the runway on Aug. 17. Onaga had vowed one final permit revocation, but then died suddenly of pancreatic cancer on Aug. 8.

The central government postponed the landfill work in the wake of his death.

It remains unclear which way the island will vote regarding Onaga’s successor. Anti-base protesters suffered a major setback in February when Nago’s anti-base mayor was defeated by an independent candidate backed by Tokyo. However, the race is already shaping up to include anti-base candidates.

burke.matt@stripes.com
ichihashi.aya@stripes.com

 

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