Nago mayor accused of treason for heliport study

NAGO, Okinawa Pref. — For decades, residents of Henoko Ward in the eastern part of this city have dined on such delicacies as shrimp, crab, turban shells and other shellfish from nearby coastal waters.

They have also fished off and thrown beach parties on Hirashima Island, a mere 600 meters off the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab. This may all come to an end if the central government decides to build a sea-based heliport here to replace the marines’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan in central Okinawa. That site is to be returned to Japan in the next five to seven years.

Nago Mayor Tetsuya Higa, in a blunt reversal, announced in mid-April that the city will accept Tokyo’s proposal to conduct a costly preliminary study for the offshore project. Late last week, the central government started a feasibility study off Camp Schwab, in which four government-assigned firms are to conduct research on local marine life, airspace and sea lanes for local traffic, and take aerial photographs by the end of June.

Stunned by the decision by Higa, who in March had refused to meet central government delegates who sought his cooperation, various civic groups have decried what they call the mayor’s act of treason. “The mayor has sold his soul for money,” claimed Zenko Nakamura, bureau chief of the northern Okinawa district labor union conference.

Nakamura and his fellow unionists alleged that Higa may have given in to the state in exchange for compensation to promote the local economy. “He’s just gone reckless, neglecting the voices of citizens,” Nakamura said. “In two civic meetings (attended by a total of 6,000 people), our opposition was clearly expressed.”

The municipal assembly also rejected the heliport.

Higa insisted that accepting the feasibility study does not mean he supports construction of the sea-based facility. The mayor also claimed that his government did not plan to link the study with possible economic promotion measures by the central government. But Nakamura and many others do not believe him.