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Okinawa sues Tokyo again to stop MCAS Futenma relocation project

Landfill work continues at Camp Schwab, Okinawa, in December 2018, for a runway that will one day allow for the relocation of air operations from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

CARLOS VAZQUEZ/STARS AND STRIPES

By AYA ICHIHASHI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 18, 2019

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The governor of Okinawa filed yet another legal challenge Wednesday to the ongoing construction in Henoko of an airfield to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

Gov. Denny Tamaki, who opposes the plan, filed suit at the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court against Keiichi Ishii, the Japanese minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, seeking to void Ishii’s decision in October to resume construction at Henoko.

MCAS Futenma is in a densely packed urban area in central Okinawa, which has given rise to safety concerns. The plan is to close Futenma and relocate Marine air operations to Camp Schwab in a less-populated coastal area to the north. A runway is being built from reclaimed seabed in Oura Bay at Henoko to facilitate the move.

In August, Okinawa prefecture revoked the runway construction permits. In October, the Okinawa Defense Bureau — a branch of Japan’s Ministry of Defense — appealed the revocation to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

Ishii overturned Okinawa’s revocation of the permits on April 5.

The battle, however, continued. April 22, the Okinawa prefectural government filed a complaint with the Central and Local Government Dispute Management Council challenging Ishii’s decision.

The council dismissed Okinawa’s complaint, Tamaki said June 17. But, he said, he planned further legal action against Tokyo to halt the landfill construction.

In addition to the suit filed Wednesday, Okinawa plans another lawsuit “as soon as we are ready to file,” a spokesman for the prefectural government told Stars and Stripes. The rules of his job do not allow him to be named.

All told, the dispute over relocating MCAS Futenma has generated seven lawsuits, including the one filed Wednesday, between Okinawa and Tokyo.

“I will make every effort I can to halt the relocation,” Tamaki said in his statement Wednesday. He cited opposition to the plan by two previous governors and a voter referendum.

In February, just over half of Okinawa’s 1.15 million registered voters turned out to deliver a resounding “no” vote on the plan to relocate Futenma. Out of the 601,733 voters who turned out, 434,149 — approximately 72 percent — voted against the reclamation of land in Oura Bay at Camp Schwab for a new military runway.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau declined comment on the lawsuit by Okinawa prefecture but told Stars and Stripes it is making its best effort to finish the Henoko project, close MCAS Futenma and “remove the danger from local residents.”

The relocation plan has been met with small but fervent protests since 2006, when the U.S. and Japan decided to keep Marine air operations within the prefecture. The project was supposed to be completed by 2014 but has been slowed significantly by construction delays and unsuccessful court challenges by anti-base Okinawa governors.

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

Onaga campaigned on a vowing to stop the project and eject the MV-22 Osprey aircraft at Futenma from the island. He revoked a permit to reclaim a portion of seabed for the runway in March 2016, which halted construction. The Fukuoka High Court overturned that move in December 2016. Onaga then filed a district court lawsuit in July 2017, which ended unsuccessfully in March.

Reclamation work for the runway resumed in December 2018. Current estimates of the project’s completion now stand somewhere around 2025 and 2026 or later.

ichihashi.aya@stripes.com
Twitter: @AyaIchihashi

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