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NAHA — The Okinawan court hearing a lawsuit aimed at blocking a new offshore Marine Corps air station near Henoko should reject the Japanese government’s defense of the plan, air station opponents argued this week, and should let the court action continue.

In a Naha District Court hearing Tuesday, air station opponents argued that environmental concerns offer a compelling reason to call off a project to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma offshore from the rural fishing community.

“Devastating impact on (the) environment caused by the construction and ensuing military operations is incalculable,” lawyer Yutaka Kato said during the hearing.

Being sued is the Japanese government, which is undertaking the project to remove Futenma from heavily populated Ginowan City. Plans call for building a 1.5-mile runway on 455 acres of reclaimed land about two miles offshore from Henoko, to be used jointly by military and commercial aircraft. A causeway would connect the airport with Camp Schwab.

But 85 local residents, environmentalists and anti-military advocates sued in December, claiming the airstrip would destroy the environment and further imperil the already endangered dugong, a sea mammal that feeds on sea grass in the waters.

In a written response to the lawsuit, the Japanese government argued it should be thrown out because the opponents’ arguments were irrelevant.

The opponents were in court Tuesday to offer counter-arguments.

“Okinawan waters are the northernmost limit of the dugong,” Kato said.

About 10 dugongs were spotted in a 1999 survey. In 2002 and 2004, seven dugongs were observed in the northern and eastern coast of Okinawa, he said.

“The dugong, which is classified as (a) natural treasure of Japan, is very low in reproductive rate in their about 50 years of life,” he said, arguing before Chief Judge Minoru Kuboki that protecting their feeding grounds in Okinawan waters was crucially important.

The next hearing is set for Oct. 4.

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