Reports: Okinawa governor planning new lawsuit opposing Futenma relocation
By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 31, 2017
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The governor of Okinawa is preparing another lawsuit challenging the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a remote part of the island, according to multiple Japanese media reports.
Gov. Takeshi Onaga plans to submit a bill to the prefectural assembly soon, asking for approval to file a lawsuit against the Tokyo government, the reports said Wednesday.
He will reportedly seek to stop the ongoing new runway project at Henoko, which upon completion is expected to allow Futenma’s closure and move U.S. Marine Corps air operations to Camp Schwab in the island’s north.
Onaga reportedly plans to challenge coral reef destruction, which is typically seen as detrimental to local fishermen.
Onaga, who wants the base moved off Okinawa, claims the Japanese government needs his permission for a renewed permit, which expired at the end of March.
Onaga’s staff maintains that local fishermen maintain rights to the waters, while the central government says those rights were relinquished by a local fishermen’s organization.
The suit is expected to be filed in Naha District Court as early as July, the reports said. A spokesman for Onaga acknowledged the reports but would not confirm or deny them when asked Wednesday by Stars and Stripes.
“We have sent a query to the Ministry of Defense, asking if [they] plan to submit a request to renew the permission [to break the reef rocks], and the deadline for the query is tomorrow,” a spokesman for the governor said Wednesday. “Based on their response, we will respond to the issue.”
NHK Okinawa reported that Onaga indicated he would file suit.
“I will wait for a response from the Okinawa Defense Bureau and hold a press conference,” Onaga told reporters Tuesday in Naha.
The Okinawa Times reported Wednesday that sources close to the governor said he will wait to file the suit until the reef-breaking is imminent or when evidence of the breaking is confirmed.
Ministry of Defense officials said they will move forward with their plans, adding that the federal government holds jurisdiction.
“It is our understanding that there is no need to obtain a permit to break rock reefs,” Japan’s defense minister Tomomi Inada said Tuesday.
Construction on the project was suspended last year in March when Onaga revoked a permit to fill in the sea for the runway. The permit revocation was struck down by the Fukuoka High Court in December.
Plans for the relocation were first drawn up in the mid-1990s in response to a surge of anti-American sentiment associated with the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemembers. Residents around Futenma which is located in a densely populated urban area in central Okinawa expressed safety concerns about potential aircraft crashes.
Japanese and American lawmakers agreed to shutter the base and move Marine air operations; however, they stated that keeping them on the island was the only viable option. That decision led to protests that continue to this day.
Onaga was elected on an anti-base platform in 2014. During his campaign he vowed to stop the relocation to northern Okinawa and to expel the controversial Marine tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey.
The protest movement seeking to stop the relocation is relatively small in numbers, based on Okinawa’s population of 1.4 million. However, they have popular support of a majority of citizens, according to polls.